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A Synopsis of Byzantine History 


Translated In* John Wortlev 

w ith Introduction* h\ Jean-Claude ( ihcvnetaiul Bernard l lusin 

4 * 4 

and Notes hv lean -Claude Cheynet 


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Cambridge University Press 
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Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York 

Information on this title: 

©John Wortley 2010 

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception 
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, 
no reproduction of any part may take place without the written 
permission of Cambridge University Press. 

First published 2010 

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge 

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data 

Scylitzes, John, fl. 1081, 

[Synopsis historiarum. Englishl 
A synopsis of Byzantine history, 811—1057 ^ J°hn Skylitzes ; 

translated by John Wortley. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 
isbn 978-0-521-76705-7 (hbk ) 

1. Byzantine Empire— I listory— 527— 1081— Early works to 1800. L Title* 

DF553.S36 2010 



isbn 978-0-521-76705-7 Hardback 

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or 
accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in 
this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, 

or will remain, accurate or appropriate. 


The English translator's Preface P a K e y h 

Introduction: John Skylitzes, the author and his family 

by Jean- Claude Cbeynet ix 

Re-writing history: John Skylitzes’ Synopsis historian 

by Bernard Flusin xii 

John Skylitzes, Synopsis 

Foreword i 

1. Michael I Rangabe, the Kouropalates [811—813] 4 

2. Leo V the Armenian [813—820] 15 

3. Michael 1 1 the Stammerer [820— 829] 27 

4. Theophilos [829—842] 51 

5. Michael III, the son of Theophilos [842—867], 

and his mother Theodora [842—862] 82 

6. Basil I Kephalas, the Macedonian [867— 886] 116 

7. Leo VI the Philosopher (the Wise) [886—912] 165 

8. Alexander [912—913] 188 

9. Constantine VII, Porphyrogennetos [913—959] 191 

to. Romanos I Lekapenos [919—944] 206 

11. Constantine VII [944-959] 225 

12. Romanos II the Younger [959— 963] 239 

13. Basil IT Bulgaroktonos and Constantine VIII [976—1025] 245 





Nikephoros 11 Phokas [963—969] 



John I Tzimiskes [969—976] 



Basil II and Constantine VIII bis [976—1025] 



Constantine VIII [1025—1028 



Romanos III Argyros [1028—1034] 



Michael IV the Paphlagonian [1034— 1041] 



Michael V Kalaphates [1041— 1042] 

39 1 


Constantine IXMonomachos [1042—1055] 



Theodora [1055—1056] 



Michael VI the Elder/Stratiotikos [1056— 1057] 








The English translators Preface 

It would, be unfortunate if the extraordinary process by which this 
translation came into being were not noted. A critical edition of Skylitzes’ 
text appeared in 1973, a German translation of the first half of the text 
shortly after (the second half seems never to have seen the light of day), 
both the work of Hans Thurn. Thus, since not everybody can read 
German and even fewer the rather convoluted kind of Greek found in the 
Synopsis > Skylitzes' has literally remained a closed book for many readers. 
This is unfortunate for, although it is far from being an original work (in 
fact it consists almost entirely of other mens words), it not only preserves 
extracts from some sources which have survived in no other form; it also 
constitutes the unique source for some periods of the Byzantine experi- 
ence. It was therefore particularly regrettable that this text remained vir- 
tually inaccessible to many readers. When therefore the present writer 
learnt that his Parisian colleagues Bernard Flusin and Jean-Claude 
Cheynet were proposing to make the work available in French, he sug- 
gested to them (and they agreed) that it should be published in English 
too. A cooperative plan was evolved: it was proposed that Wortley and 
Flusin should each translate into his own language, then exchange ver- 
sions, chapter by chapter, so that each co uld use the others wo rk to 
control his own. Meanwhile Cheynet was to produce footnotes for the 
French edition which would in due course be translated by Wortley for 
the English publication. Nineteen years after the original agreement was 
made, all this has finally been accomplished. Since the French transla- 
tion appeared (in 2003) other works have been published; these have been 
duly noted by M. Cheynet in the revised footnotes and bibliography that 
accompany this volume. 

Mhe English translator wishes gratefully to acknowledge the unfailing 
courtesy and kindness of Bernard Flusin and Jean-Claude Cheynet, with- 
out whose splendid efforts and patience this work could never have been 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

realised- He also wishes to acknowledge and thank others who from time 
to time have generously offered helping hands, most especially: Margaret 
Mullett, Catherine McColgan and Robert Jordan in Belfast, Catherine 
Holmes in Oxford, Rory Egan in Manitoba. 

One pondered long and carefully about what to call this book. John 
Skylitzes described his work simply as ‘a synopsis of histories 1 . By this he 
meant a digest of a number of historical writings he had to hand (see his 
Proimion , page i below) but it seemed that ‘a synopsis of histories’ would 
be very puzzling to many a modern reader. Therefore, a fter much deliber- 
ation, A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811—1057 was finally selected as an 
adequate title. It was chosen because it has the triple advantage of being 
totally comprehensible to the modern reader and of accurately describing 
the contents of the book, while retaining at least an echo of the original 
title by retaining the word synopsis . 

The numbers in square brackets in the text indicate the pages in Thurn’s 
Greek text. 

Introduction : John Skylitzes, the author 

and his family 

Jean- Claude Cheynet 

What little information exists concerning the author of the Synopsis 
hist or ion is a 11 fo und either in the manuscripts of that work itself or in 
a few archival documents. He was known by two names: Skylitzes and 
Thrakesios. Th ere is no doubt that these refer to the same person because 
the twelfth-century historian John Zonaras, narrating the abdication of 
Isaac Komnenos (ad 1059) in his Epitome historion , makes reference to a 
passage in which John Thrakesios describes the awesome vision which 
persuaded that emperor to step down. His near contemporary George 
Kedrenos also makes reference to the earlier synopsis t in his own Synopsis 
(in which he slavishly follows Skylitzes’ account), calling him the pro- 
tovestiarios John Thrakesios. This name is clearly a reference to the place 
from which he (or his parents) came: the Thrakesion theme in western 
Asia Minor. 3 

John Skylitzes is mentioned in certain legal documents dated 1090 
and 1092 as droungarios of the watch (tes biglas ), a title which at that 
time designated the principal magistrate of the main judicial tribunal of 
Constantinople. In 1091 4 Skylitzes petitioned Alexios Komnenos for eluci- 
dation of the novel (new law) concerning betrothals, to which he received a 
reply from the emperor in the following year.’In addition to his appointment 
as grand droungarios, John also held the post of eparch of Constantinople 
with the title of proedros. Werner Seibt thinks this was too lowly a title for 

3 There is a short study of this person by W. Seibt, Toa lines 

JOB , 25 (1976), 81-5. 

2 John Zonaras III, loannis Zonorae epitomae historiarum , 

Skylitzes* Zur Person des Chronisten*, 
ed* M. Finder (CSHB, Bonn, 1897), 

18,6,5, 673:4-18, 

3 His contemporary, Michael Attaleiates, also bore the name ol his place of origin: the city of 
Attaleia, now Antalya* Had either of them hailed from Thrace (rather than the Thrakesion theme) 
the appropriate epithet would have been Ihrax (Th racian), not ih rakesios. 

4 The date of this act has been commented on at length* 1 1 was fin ally established by P, Wirth: Regesten 
der Kaiserurkunden des ostrdmischen Reiches , n, Regesten von 102$— 1204, ed, F* Dolger and P, Wirth 
(Munich, 1995), 1162a, 

s A . E . L a i o u , M a ri age, amour et pa ren te a Byza n ce a ux X I e—X III e si e cles ( P a r i s * 1992), 36, 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

such a senior officer at that time. Assuming that a scribe had mistakenly 
omitted a syllable,' he proposes to amend it to read protoproedros, and 
in fact two years later we find John addressed as kouropalates when he 
received from Alexios Komnenos the solution \lysis\ to a problem he had 
raised some months earlier concerning the impediments to marriage. 7 As 
Seibt has convincingly demonstrated, Skylitzes could not have exercised 
the offi ce of protovestiarios; this is probably a misreading of an abbreviated 
form indicating the rank of protovestes, even of protovestarches. 

Briefly: it appears that John Skylitzes (born before 1050) followed a 
career in the judiciary which led to the highest positions under Alexios 
Komnenos. He may have survived into the first decade of the twelfth 
century, or even a little later. It is possible that he was also the author of 
the work known as Skylitzes Continuatus of John Skylitzes. Nothing is 
kn own of his social background; he appears to be the first person bearing 
that surname to have risen so high in the civil service. As in the case of 
Michael Psellos and Michael Attaleiates before him, a good education was 
probably what brought about his social advancement, which it was cer- 
tainly capable of doing in the eleventh century. Johns contemporary, Basil 
Skylitzes, attained the by no means insignificant dignity of proedros. But 
it was in the following century that the Skylitzes family fortunes achieved 
their apogee. That was when members of the clan acquired numerous civil 
and ecclesiastical appointments in the way that was usual at that time 
for men of learning. We can reconstruct the career of Stephen Skylitzes, 
metropolitan of Trebizond (who reorganised the church therein the time of 
John II) from a lament by Prodromos. Stephen’s brother was the director 
of St Paul’s school. George Skylitzes, who was the next generation after 
Stephen, first served under Manuel Komnenos, participating in the synod 
of 1166 as protokouropalates and grammatikos (secretary) to the emperor. 1 
Subsequently, under Andronikos Komnenos, he became protoasekretes, 12 

■ Seibt,. ioannes Skylitzes*, 82. The scribe would have simplified the already abbreviated form of the 
title by reducing (proto)(pro)edros to (pro)edros. 

7 Dolger and Wirth, Regesten, 1167; see the comments of Laiou, Mari age ^ 30, 

Seibt, ‘Ioannes Skylitzes*, 83—4* 

9 He synecheia tes chronographias ton loannou Skylitze , ed. E, T. Tsolakes (Thessalonike, 1968), 
76-99. Tsolakes believes this to be the work of Skylitzes, others disagree. 

10 R* B rowning, 'The Patriarchal School at Constantinople in the twelfth century B, 32 (1962), 
175—6, repr. R. Browning, Studies in Byzantine history, literature and education (London, 1977), x. 

n PG, 140, 253. 

11 J. A, van Dieten, Nicetae Choniatae O rati ones et Epistulae (CFHR, 3, Berlin and New York, 
1972), 335. Many of his seals of have survived, one of which has t he rare distinction of portray- 
ing St George on horseback: Fogg Art 5 Museum no. 573. Another seal reveals that George 
became sebastos: SBS , 3 207. 


John Skylitzes, the author and his family 

head of chancellery. A man of grear learning, George was the author of 
poems, theological works, canons and of a Life of John ofRila, the Bulgar 
saint. 3 His wife, Anna Eugeniotissa, also pertained to the highest ranks of 
the civil service. 4 The Skylitzai did not disappear after the turmoil of 1204, 
for a Th eodore Skylitzes was an officer of the treasury at Mourmounta (the 
region of Miletos) in 1263, in the service of the panhypersebastos George 
ZagarommatesT The last members of the family known in the time of the 

Palaiologoi did not play any role of great importance. 

13 ODBll, 913-14. 

14 S* Lampros, ‘Ho Markianos kodix 524", Neon Hellenomnemon , 8 (1911)* 249, 
[ - PLP y ed. E. Trapp and H.-V. Beyer (Vienna, 1976-96), no. 26234 

16 PLP y ed. Trapp and Beyer, nos 26232—26236 

Re-writing history: John Skylitzes 7 

Synopsis historion 

Bernard Flusin 

John Skylitzes’ Synopsis historion was written during the reign of Alexios 
Komnenos (1081— 1118), almost certainly towards the end of the eleventh 
century. It purports to cover the years 811 to 1057: from the death of 
Nikephoros 1 to the abdication of Michael VI. From the mid-tenth cen- 
tury onwards it provides a source of major importance for some periods 
of Byzantine history, an outstanding example being the long reign of 
Basil II. ' It also constitutes an important element in the historiography 
of Byzantium. Its title reveals the nature of the work: Synopsis of histories, 
meaning a comprehensive digest of historical works already in existence. 
The author makes no claim to be dealing for the first time with hitherto 
neglected material, nor does he endeavour to rework in his own way the 
research which others have already conducted. His task is rather to re- 
write the works of his predecessors, combining, harmonising and abridg- 
ing them. The Synopsis is a second-hand work, the work of an author who 
views history as a literary genre, and of a historian who creates a text 
on the basis of other histories. The prooimion to the Synopsis contains 

1 The first edition of the Synopsis historion appeared in 1973: loannis Scylitzae Synopsis histo- 
rion, ed.itio princeps, ech I. Thurn (CFHB, 5, Berlin and New York, 1973), See the comments of 
G, Fatouros, ‘Textkritische Beobachtungen zu Ioannes Skylitzes", JOB , 24 (1975), 91-4. Prior 
to 1973 Skylitzes" text cou Id he read in the George Kcdrenos, Compendium historiarum , ed. L 
Bckkcr, 2 vols. (CSHB, Bonn, 183 8), ol which it forms an integral part* On the continuation of 
Skylitzes covering the years 1057—79 (almost certain \yth e work of Skylitzes himself) see bel ow, 
p, 23* For a general study of the author and his work: G, Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica , 1, Die 
byzantinisehen Quellen der Geschichte der Turkvolker (Berlin, 1958), 335—40; H* Hunger, Die hoch- 
sprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner (Munich, 1978), 1, 389—93 (Greek tr. Athens, 1992), 
210— r 6, Contrary to the opinion of this author, we do not think Skylitzes addressed himself to a 
wide audience: 'Skylitzes could only partially fulfil the promises made in his prologue. This can be 
excused if we bear in mind that, in common with the other chroniclers, he was writing for a wide 
public, hence he could not escape the general trend in less serious literature", Hunger, Literatur der 
Byzantiner , 212 in the Greek translation* Neither the conrinuators o nil eop banes nor Skylitzes are 
in the business of writing popular literature and their wo rk is not to be included under rbe heading 
ofl ess serious literature". It is intended tor court circles and the upper echelons ol the administra- 
tion, the circles in which those authors lived a nd moved* 

- See C. 1 lolmes, Basil II and the Gouvernance of Empire (yyS—ioiy) (Oxford, 2005). 


John Skylitzes * Synopsis historion xiii 

valuable indications of how we are to understand the nature of this under- 
taking; these must be investigated wherever it is possible to check them by 
studying the ways in which Skylitzes handled his sources. 


Tire prooimion of the Synopsis historion ’ is a statement of capital importance 
in Byzantine historical literature; it has frequently been discussed because 
it contains the names of certain historians whose works have not survived . 4 
Its importance for us here lies in the fact that in this statement Skylitzes 
defines the project he is undertaking. First he defines it in a very positive 
fashion by placing it under the patronage of two authors whose sanctity 
and excellence he reveres: George the synkellos and Theophanes. Tlr en 
he defines it in a somewhat negative way by identifying certain historical 
works of which he is critical. Hence the genre in which Skylitzes intends 
to operate is not history in the strict sense of the word, but historical di- 
gest {epitome historias), the genre of George and Theophanes (themselves 
following in the steps of some older writers of whom our author says noth- 
ing, but whom he must not pass over in silence). The works of his two 
model writers are extant . 5 They represent, to quote Cyril Mango, the most 
ambitious effort ever made by Byzantine historiography to provide a sys- 
tematic account of what has befallen humanity’. As Skylitzes says, one 
of them covers the period from the creation of the world to the acces- 
sion of Diocletian; the other from then to the coronation of Leo V (not 
merely ‘until the death of Nikephoros the former genikos’). Thus both the 
Synopsis and Theophanes’ narrative (of which the former is the continu- 
ation) record the reign of Michael T Rangabe . 7 The affinity between the 

Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , ed, Thurn, 3-4* 

See (esp,) Theodore Daphnopates , Correspondence , ed. J. D arrouzes and L* G* Westerink (Paris, 
1978), 6—7; I Gngoriadis, £ A study of the prooimion of Zonaras’ chronicle in relation to the other 
twelfth-century prooimia 5 , BZ , 9T (1998), 327-44, at 338-9; A, Markopoulos, 'Byzantine history 
writing at the end of the first millennium 5 , Byzantium in the year 1000, ed, P, Magda lino (The 
Medieval Mediterranean, 45, Leiden and Boston, 2003), 192—3* 

Georgii Syncelli Ecloga Chronographica , ed. A* A* Mosshammer (Leipzig, 1984), tr* \X\ Adler and 
P. Turin n, I he Chronography of George Synkellos: a Byzantine chronicle of universal history from the 
creation (Oxford, 2002); Theophanes, Chronographia > ed. C, de Boor, 2 vols, (Leipzig, 1883—5), 
tn C. Mango and R. Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor ; Byzantine and Near Eastern 
History ad 28^—813 (Oxford, 1997)* 

Chronicle of theophanes Confessor , ed. Mango and Scott, Hi. 

The discrepancy between the true ending of Theophanes 5 Chronographia and the ending alleged 
by Skylitzes may simply mean that the latter was speaking in general terms* Another possibility 
is th at, because Th eophanes wrote before Leo v openly declare d h imself in favour of icunoclasm, 
he portrayed that emperor in more favourable colours than Skylitzes was prepared to endorse. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Chronographia of Theophanes Confessor and the Ekloge chronographias 
of George the synkellos is very close because, when he was dying in 
810, George requested Theophanes to continue the work that he was 
leaving unfinished, bequeathing the material he had collected to his 
fri end. Although Theophanes’ Chronographia (completed before 814) 
was the sequel to George’s work, there are clearly discernible differences 
between the two. While chronology occupies an important position in 
both of them, the computation of George the synkellos (derived from a 
tradition which goes back to Eusebius of Caesarea) is the more scholarly. 
Yet throughout his Chronographia Theophanes, for his part, regularly sets 
down the year of creation ( anno Mundi)> the year of the incarnation {anno 
domini), the indiction, the regnal years of the emperor and of the Sassanid 
ruler (of the caliph later on), to which he adds the pontifical year of the 
patriarchs. There is, however, little trace of this chronological aspect of 
the work of his predecessors in Skylitzes. Sometimes he states the indic- 
tion or the year of creation, but there is nothing systematic about the way 
he d oes it. This is an important difference, but it is not an innovation 
on Skylitzes’ part. Already in the ninth century Byzantine historiography 
had left behind the chronological apparatus found in some late antique 
writers. Indeed from this point of view George the synkellos was already 
a man of the past. There are, however, other indications that Skylitzes 
stood in succession to Theophanes, above all the way in which he worked, 
rifling the available historical texts with the intention of providing a digest 
of them. Theophanes declares that, in addition to the material bequeathed 
to him by George the synkellos, he has worked through the history books 
and ma de a selection of what they had to offer.” In the past, when George 
the synkellos claimed that he had made an abridgement 0! his sources, 
he also employed the same term {synopsis) that Skylitzes was to use to 






Genesios likewise began his History oj the Reigns with the second year ol Michael I: Iosephi Genesii 
Regnum libri quattuor> ed. A* Lesm ill ier-’ Werner a nd J. Tli urn (CFHB, 14, Berlin and New York, 

Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor , ed. Mango and Scott, Iv, 

Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor , ed. Mango and Scott, Ivii. 

Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor , ed. Mango and Scott, lii. Neither Joseph Genesios nor the 
continuators of Theophanes in the tenth century made any effort to establish a systematic 

Theophanes, Chronograph ia> ed. de Boor, 1:4; tr. Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor y ed. Mango 
and Scott, 2 

'[ have noted this in brief [ev QUVTOpO)] in the so-called Life of Adam . on the basis of other 
Origins , of the Scriptures inspired by God and of the best known historical records which suc- 
ceeded them. It is from those sources that I have gleaned most of the events described (with the 
exception of a few events that have taken place in our own times), events of which I will attempt 
to make a synopsis', George Synkellos, ed. Mosshammer, 5—6. 


John Skylitzes ' Synopsis historion 

describe his own work. There is the matter of style too: simple, unaffected 
language, touching exclusively on the substance of the events which had 
taken place’, meaning narrative written so that it might be clearly under- 
stood. On this point ‘chronography’ is to be distinguished from sophis- 
ticated history, whose rhetorical pretensions march off in a different 
direction. Of course Skylitzes is not content merely to follow th e examples 
of George and Theophanes. While he continues their work, it is clear that 
in his own eyes the Synopsis he is compiling is no more than a section of a 
chronography which others had begun; a chronography that started with 
the creation of the worlci and that others in turn will carry forward. 

The idea of continuing the work of Theophanes was not a new one in 
the eleventh century nor was it the exclusive property of Skylitzes. He 
was well aware that during the period covering almost three centuries 
between the reign of Leo V and his own time there were th ose who had 
preceded him. He knew of them, but considered them unsatisfactory. We 
can follow in his footsteps by dividing these predecessors into two groups, 
the first of which would include ‘Sikeleiotes grammarikos’ (meaning 
Theognostos), 11 Psellos and ‘some others’, who remain anonymous. Now 
the two names just mentioned are not names one would have expected. 
Theognostos’ work, dating probably from 820—30, is lost to us. We only 
kn ow of it because the so-called ‘continuators of Theophanes’ 14 made use 
of it to report an event which occurred in Sicily (the passage is found in 
Skylitzes too).' 5 It is even more surprising to find Michael Psellos in this 
context. The Chronographia, so brilliant and personal, which we owe to 
th is author, has none of the dryness for which he is reproved. lt_ I he solu- 
tion could be that it is to another work of Psellos that reference is made 
here, his Historia syntomos (Short History), which better fits the description 

n For Markopoulos, 'Byzantine history writing*, 193, 'Sikeliotes didaskalos is surely a phantom*, 
yet it appears th at he can now be definitively identified. On Theognostos, author of a treaty 
on orthography and also of a history (now lost) that was a source used hy the continuators of 
U eophanes: Hunger, Literatur der Byzantiner, \, 340, Greek tr*, II, 144* 

14 Scriptures post Theophanem, eck I Bekker {CSHB, Bonn, 1838), 1-1481* See Hunger, Literatur der 
Byzantine r, I, 339—43, Greek ti\, II, 143—8. 

I he event is the attempted usurpation of Huphemios in Sicily in the reign of M ichael 11 : Theophanes 
Continuatus , ed. L Rekker (CSHB, Bonn, 1838)* 8t— 3 (Theognostos is identified as the source of 
this information, 82* lines 17—20); Skylitzes, Synopsis historian, ed. Thurn, Michael II, eh. 20, 
45—6. On this episode, its date and the account of Theognostos, see M. Nichanian,V. Prigent, 
Tes strateges de Sicile. De la naissance du theme au regne de Leon V”, REB 61 (2003) 97— T41, 
especially 129—30 and note 229. 

Michel Psellos , Chronogmphie ou histoire dun siecle de Byzance (976—1077), ed* tr. E, Renauld, 2 
vuls. (Paris, 1920); Fourteen Byzantine rulers: the Chronographia of Michael Psellus, tr. E. R. A. 
Sewter (London and Newhaven, CT, 1953); Michele Psello. Imperaiori di Bisanzio (Cronografa), 
ed. S. 1 mpellizzeri, U. Criscuolo, tr. S. Rone hey, 2 vols., (Fondazione Valla, 1984) 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

given of it in Skylitzes’ prologue .' 7 So far as Skylitzes is concerned, these 
bumbling continuators of Theophanes have done little more th an set out 
lists of emperors, either omitting the most important events or distorting 
those they include. Brutal criticism! Nor is the second group of authors — 
ten in all — spared, though we are in no position to appreciate the validity 
of the charges made by Skylitzes against them as six of the ten are scarcely 
more than names for us today. The works of two of those writers are still 
extant. Reigns {Peri basileion ), composed by Joseph Genesios at the com- 
mand of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, can indeed be considered 
as a continuation of Theophanes as far as it goes, for it commences where 
Theophanes left off. The History {Historia) of Leo the Deacon (or Leo of 
Asia, as Skylitzes calls him) was written at the end of the tenth century. 
It covers the reigns of Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes. The two 
remaining names are problematic. Theodore Daphnopates is a known 
writer of the reign of Constantine VII, but we possess no historical writing 
under his name. It is possible that a part of the sixth book of theophanes 
Continuatus is to be attributed to him: this matter is still under discus- 
sion. A similar problem arises in the case of Niketas the Paphlagonian, 






The specialists, however, are still discussing this point. J. N. Ljuba rskij, Mihail PselL 
Lichnosti } ivortchestyo (Moscow, 1978);, r 77, sees the then unedited Historia syntomos of Psellos as the 
work of that author wh ich Skylitzes criticises, a nd h is opinion is shared by K. Snipes, ‘A newly dis- 
covered history of the Roman emperors by Michael Psellos 5 , XVI. Internal Byzantinistenkongress , 
Akten II/3, - JOB , 32/33 (1982), 53-61, esp. 55. The first editor of the work in question, W. J. Aerts, 
challenges this opinion. For him the criticisms of Skylitzes are inappropriate to Psellos and in 
any case it is by no means certain that Psellos is the author of the Historia syntomos; Aerts even 
tries to attribute it to the other writer mentioned by Skylitzes in this passage of the prooimion, 
the ‘schoolmaster of Sicily 5 : Michaelis Pselli Historia Syntomos, Editio princeps, ed. cr, and com- 
mentary W. J. Aerts (CFHB, 30, Berlin and New York, 1990), X—XIIL While Aerts’ arguments 
are less than convincing, he has nevertheless cast serious doubts on the attribution of the Historia 
syntomos to Psellos, 

These are: Manuel of Byzantium, the author of a w 7 ork dealing with John Kourkouas; a Phrygian 
known as Nikephoros the Deacon; three bishops, Theodore ol Side, Theodore of Sebastaea and 
Demetrios of Kyzikos, and the mon k joh n the Lydian, not to be confused with the sixth-century 
writer of that name. See below r on Theodore of Sabastaea* 

In his prologue, Genesios, ed. Lesmii Her- Werner and Thurn, 3, Genesios claims to have written at 
the command of Constantine VII: It was from the emperor Constantine who by nature and by 
cho ice loves that w hich is good, the most learned of emperors who ever existed, son of the most 
wise Leo, that sovereign of eternal memory, that I received the command to secure in writing the 
events that had taken place in and since the reign of Leo [V] the Amalekite (whose godlessness 
sated his soul), and that had not yet been collected into a history book.’ 

Leo the Deacon, Leonis Diaconi Caloensis historian libri decern , ed. C. B. ease (CSHB, Bonn, 


Hunger, Literatur der Byzantiner, I, 343, Greek tr., II, 147, endorses the opinion of A. Kazhdan, Iz 
istorii vizantijskoj hronograjiiy Xv, 19, (1961), 91-6, w'ho thinks that the attribution of a portion of 
Book VI of Theophanes Continuatus to Daphnopates is not without foundation. Ill e opposite opin- 
ion is expressed by A. Markopoulos, ‘Theodore Daphnopates et la continuation de Theophane*, 


John Skylitzes’ Synopsis historion 

a somewhat verbose writer of the end of the ninth and the beginning of 
the tenth centuries: none of the writings by him which have survived is 
of a historical nature. 22 Some scholars have proposed to recognise as the 
work at Niketas mentioned in Skylitzes’ prologue a Life of the patriarch 
Ignatios written at the en d of th e ninth century. ’ This (they say) is what he 
is referring to when he mentions ‘a pamphlet directed against a patriarch’ 
[psogos patriarchou], for it contains some violent attacks on the patriarch 
Photios. :4 It seems more likely though that the Prologue refers to some 
historical work by Niketas of which there is some evidence, and which A. 
Markopoulos has even suggested might be an anonymous ecclesiastical 
history mentioned in Codex Baroccianus grace. 142. 25 

Skylitzes levels a variety of charges against these authors, all of which 
boil down to their having moved too far from the spirit of George the syn- 
kellos and of Iheophanes. They have concerned themselves with their own 
times or with the recent past (he alleges). Rather than producing the kind 
of ‘historical digest’ beloved of Skylitzes, they have played the historian 
and, allowing their prejudices to sway their judgement, written what from 
a classical point of view should be carefully differentiated: commenda- 
tion [epainos\, eulogy [ enkomion\ and censure [psogos]. The reader is thus 
plunged into confusion; not only are these historical discourses too heavy 
but also, given the prejudices of the writers, the facts are unreliable. 

Judging by the works which have survived, Skylitzes’ allegations are 
sometimes va lid. G enesios’ Reigns is not particularly at fault (or scarcely 
more so th an the Synopsis ), but the first part of the Historia of Leo the 
Deacon is frankly a eulogy tor the emperor Nikephoros Phokas. This is 
precisely what Skylitzes wants to avoid. He wants to get back to the digest, 
the synopsis , pure and simple, along the 1 ines laid down by George the 
synkellos and Theophanes the Confessor, in the true spirit of Byzantium; 




JOB , 35 (1985), 171—82* The matter is fully aired in Theodore Daphnopates. Correspondence , cch 
J* Darrouzes and L. G* Westerink (Paris, 1978), 6—10, where the attribution of all or part of 
Theophanes Continuatus to Daphnopates is rejected. 

S* A* Paschal ides, Nucsrag AafUS JJacpldycov, to ripe mono Kai rdepyo to v (Thessalonike, 

BHG 817, PCi 105:488-574 

This is the opinion of R. J* H* Jenkins, A note on Nicetas David Paphlago and the Vita IgnatiT, 
DOI\ 19 (1965), 241—7* The text of the Vita Ignatii (BHG 81 7) is in PC, 105, 488—574* An unpub- 
lished dissertation by A* Smithies, 'Nicetas David Paphlago s Lite of Ignatius, a critical edition 
and translation* (Washington, DC, 1987), proved inaccessible. 

A, Markopoulos, *He chronograph ia ton Pseudosymeon kai hoi peges tes ? (dissertation) University 
of Joannina, 1978, 132 and n* 48. See the contrary opinion of R Winkelmann, 'Hat Niketas David 
Paphlagon ein umtassendes Geschichtswerk verfasst?*, JOB, 37 (1987), 137—52* The matter is all 
laid out in Paschal ides, Niketas Dab id Paphlagon , 253—8. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

the kind of work to which (for example) the name of Constantine 
Porphyrogennetos is attached and of which the reader can easily grasp 
the meaning. But he also wants to handle his sources critically, in order to 
present a clearer picture of the facts; that is, by discarding anything which 
might have been generated by the writer’s emotions and everything that 
smacks of the miraculous. 

The modest claims made for his work by Skylitzes need not, however, 
be taken too seriously. For if the history is a simple digest, a mere manual 
to prepare the reader for more serious works, an aide-memoire, it is also a 
remedy for all the pernicious elements in historiography. Skylitzes does not 
merely make use of the work of his predecessors: he claims to correct it. 


Skylitzes names fourteen sources in his prologue; this, however, does 
not necessarily mean that he used all of them or that he used only those 
sources. No systematic investigation has yet been conducted into the 
sources of the Synopsis', the matter is complicated by the fact that many of 
the texts which were available at the end of the eleventh century have since 
been lostP 7 Here is a summary of what is generally admitted, with some 
personal remarks interspersed. 

At the beginning of the Synopsis , for the reigns of Michael I Rangabe and 
Leo V the Armenian, Skylitzes used an unidentified source at first (for 
Michael I), then he made free use of the work Joseph Genesios wrote at the 
command of the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (944—59), 
Reigns ( Peri Bdsileion ), each of the five chapters of which is devoted to a 
separate emperor: Leo V, Michae 1 II, Th eophilos, Michael ITT and Basil 
I. Skylitzes was still using this source when he described the beginning ot 
the reign of Michael III. 

Very soon, however, in fact from the reign of Leo V, he makes use ot 
another source, the so-called Theophanes Continuatus, which rapidly gains 

2 6 

In the preface to each chapter of the Constantinian Excerpta the compilers (who were following 
the instructions of Constantine VII) complain of the excessive bulk of the historical works, 
a defect which it was their function to correct. There is a French translation ot this prologue 
in P. Lemerie, Le premier humanisme byzantin (Paris, [97 ), 281—2, The editors of the Excerpta 
dealt with the overwhelming mass of their sources by extracting passages from it and arranging 

them in a systematic order. 

The remarks of F. Hirsch, Byzantin isch e Studien (Leipzig, 1876)5 356—75, are basic to this question; 
see also H ol tries, Basil II. 

See Hirsch, Byzantinische Studien, 362-4. 

13 On Genesios see notes and above. For Skylitzes, Synopsis historian , ed. Thurn, Michael III, ch. 1, 
81 (107 below), the source is not the equivalent passage in Theophanes Continuatus , but the one 


John Skylitzes' Synopsis historion 

precedence to the extent that the Synopsis often looks like an abridgement 
of it. Theophanes Continuatus is another work composed at the instigation 
of Constantine VIT by his collaborators, and in the case of Book V (the Life 
of Basil I/Vita Basilii ) by that emperor himself using material that he had 
assembled. Theophanes Continuatus consists of six books, five of w hich 
deal ea ch with a single emperor (as in the case of Genesios), from Leo V to 
Basil I, while Book VI (a later composition) deals with several reigns; Leo 
VI, Alexander, Constantine VII with Romanos I Lekapenos, followed by 
the personal reigns of Constantine VII and Romanos 1 1 until 961. 

The fifth b 00k of Theophanes Continuatus is of particular importance, 
for it is a Life of Basil [I] written by (or — as its title suggests — composed 
from material assembled by) Constantine VII, Its object is to bring the 
character of the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, Constantine’s own 
grandfather, to the notice of the public. Skylitzes makes massive use of 
iheophanes Continuatus right down to the end of the first part of Book 
VI, to the conclusion of the reign of Romanos Lekapenos. It is truly 
surprising that he apparently failed to mention this source, to which he 
owes so much, in his prologue; a source that the Synopsis he is writing 
(it too a continuation of Theophanes) so closely resembles. I t is this fail- 
ure that leads one to think that Theodore Daphnopates — whom Skylitzes 
does mention — co uld h ave been the author of a portion of Theophanes 
Continuatus T Yet even in the part of his work under consideration it is 
noticeable that Skylitzes has drawn on sources other than his principal 
one. As noted above, the influence of Genesios can still be detected at the 
beginning of the reign of Michael III; after the siege of Amorion in the 


in Genesios, which has been somewhat rewritten. Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , Michael III, ch. 2, 
Si— 4, contains at least one piece of information mentioned only by him (John the Grammarian 
marking his backside with lead to give the impression that he had suffered a beating). In 
Theophanes Continuatus he cuts the veins of his belly; nothing resembling this is to he found in 
Genesios. For ch. 3, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , eck Thurn, 84—6, the same thing applies as for 
ch. i. For ch* 4, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion y ed. Thurn, 86—8, the Synopsis is far removed from the 
text of Theophanes Continuatus ; less remote from Genesios perhaps, but certainly re-written. It is 
only from ch. 5 that Skylitzes seems to rely exclusively on the continuators of Theophanes, and 
there are still points at which questions arise, e.g. the end of ch. 9, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , 
ed . Thurn, 96, or in ch. 16, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , ed. Thurn, 105, giving the list of professors 
appointed to the .VI a gn aura by Caesar Bardas* 

Iheophanes Continuatus , ed. I, Rekker (CSHR, Bonn, 1838). On the question of the authorship of 
the Vita Basilii and the doubts sometimes expressed* I. Sevcenko, ‘Storia Letterarkf, La Civ tilth 
Bizantina dal IX all XI secolo . Aspetti e problemi (Cor si di Studi 1 1, 1977, Bar i, 197^), 99-101. 

This matter is not yet decided (cf n, 37): see P. href, ‘Das Geschichtswerk des Theodoros 
Daphnopates als Quelle der Synopsis Historiarum des Johannes Skylitzes 5 in E. Ploickinger (ed.), 
Lehendige Altertumswissenschaft: Festgabe zur Vollendung des 70. Lebensjahres von Herman Vetters ; 
Vienna 1985, 348—53, who tries to show that the historical work of Daphnopates used by Skylitzes 
in not Iheophanes Continuatus , vi. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

reign of Theophilos, he seems to be using some text independent both of 
Theophanes Continuatus and of Genesios, unless (as R Hirsch suggests) he 
has thoroughly re-worked those sources. 5 Then there are several events 
described in the reign of Romanos Lekapenos which have no parallel in 
the work of the other continuators (su ch as the stratagem by which the 
patriarch Tryphon was obliged to abdicate). 5 ' It is events such as these that 
made Hirsch think that Skylitzes was using some source(s) in addition to 
Theophanes Continuatus. 4 

For the personal reigns of Constantine VII and Romanos II, Skylitzes 
abandons the continuators of Theophanes, possibly because th eir work 
smacked too much of encomium for his liking.” He turns now to another 
source, one that is very difficult to identify. This source is critical of 
Constantine VII and is possibly the source A which we are about to 
discuss. For the great warrior emperors Nikephoros Phokas an d Joh n 
Tzimiskes, the narrative runs more or less parallel (certainly for the reign 
of Phokas) to the ten books of the Historia which Leo the Deacon wrote 
before 992, covering the period from the death of Constantine VII in 
959 to the death of Tzimiskes in 97b. Since Skylitzes mentions Leo the 
Deacon (calling him ‘Leo of Asia’) in his prologue and since several pages 
of the Synopsis run parallel to Leo s Historia , the temptation is to conclude 
that one used the other. The work of Sjuzjumov, taken up and completed 
by Alexander Kazhdan, shows, however, that the situation is much more 
complicated than that. An analysis of the Synopsis reveals that the author 
has used two different sources here, the first of which [A] is a text which 
is hostile to the Phokas family. Its presence can already be detected in the 
reign of Constantine VII, who is presented in a very inauspicious light. 
He is severely censured for failing to appoint adequate persons to senior 
posts in the government. There are criticisms of Nikephoros Phokas too, 
but John Tzimiskes gets off more lightly. The person whom the author 
of source A most favours is not an emperor at all; it is the patriarch 
Polyeuktos. Kazhdan thinks that this source was composed shortly before 
ad 1000 by somebody who had lived through the events he narrates, 

u Hirsch, Byzantinische Studien* 369* 

^ Reign oi Romanos Lakapenos, c. 26* Skylitzes, Synopsis historian? ed Thurn, 226-7. 
h H irsch, Byzantinische Stud ten? 372—3. 

15 It is possible that Skylitzes simply did not know the second part of Theophanes Continuatus > vi, 
which was written later than the first part* 

A. P* Sjuszjiumov, 'Ob istochnikah LVa Djakona i Skilicy', Visantijskoe obozrenie? 2 (1916), 106—66; 
A. P. Kazhdan, Tz is tori i visantijskoj hronografii X. v. Istochniki lVa Diakona i Skilicy dlja istorii 
tretej chestverti X stolerija’, VV, 20 (1961), 106—28* C. Zuckerman is warmly thanked for translat- 
ing this article into French. 


John Skylitzes ' Synopsis historion 

sometimes recording his own memories, sometimes what others were say- 
ing. The second source [B] is a very different matter. It is favourable not 
only to the emperor Nikephoros II, but to the entire Phokas family, from 
which the detailed information on Italo-Byzantine relations must have 
come. Source B was used by Leo the Deacon too, w Hich explains the par- 
allels that can be found between his work and Skylitzes’. These come to an 
end with the death of Nikephoros Phokas, for Skylitzes abandons source 
B and uses source A for the reign of John Tzimiskes. Szuzjumov (who first 
drew attention to the existence of source B) thought that this wo uld h ave 
been written during the reign of Ba sil II, subsequent to the fall of Basil 
Lekapenos, the parakoimomenos; but Kazhdan thinks it should be dated 
prior to the assassination of Phokas in 969 since Tzimiskes, who was one 
of the murderers, is presented in a favourable light. J. Shepard has sug- 
gested that he also us ed a war journal for the reign of Tzimiskes, but it is 
difficult to know whether this was a direct or an indirect source. 

Ihe question of the sources of the Synopsis historion takes on a different 
aspect with the beginning of the personal reign of Basil II. Sometimes 
Skylitzes’ text is unique (which gives it a special value); sometimes it runs 
parallel to pre-existing texts such as the Chronographia of Michael Psellos. 
But if Skylitzes knew these works, he did not make use of them and his 
sources are lost. Indeed, his reign of Basil II (for which he is a witness of 
prime importance) seems to have been inspired by a work of the Theodore 
of Sebasteia mentioned in the prologue, now lost.' 1 As for what comes after, 
Jonathan Shepard has emphasised the quality of the information which 
Skylitzes has at his disposal on the person of Katakalon Kekaumenos, 
beginning in the reign of Michael TV the Paphlagonian. 40 Th is could indi- 
cate that he was using some work, maybe autobiographical, maybe not, 
which was centred on that great man. Skylitzes was able to use it right 
to the end of the Synopsis , until his narrative of the revolt of the military 
chiefs that terminated the reign of Michael VI the elder. As for the con- 
cluding passages of his work, the possibility should not be excluded of 
Skylitzes having had recourse to oral witnesses, as he says in his prologue. 




Holmes, Basil //* 95 and note 63* lhid. f 120-70. 

See Hunger, Literatur der Byzantiner> I, 391* Greek tr., 11, 213, referring to B. Prokic, Die Zusatze 
in der Handschrijt des Johannes Skylitzes codex Vindobensis hist < Gr, LXXIV* Ein Beitrag zur 
Geschichte des sog. Wesbulgarischen Rieches (Munich, 1906), 23. In a izth-cenr. I mile des transferts 
there Is a reference to ■ih eo do re of Sabastaea 'who composed the chronikon hi h lion of Sire Basil 
Porphyrogenitos 5 : J. Darrouzes, Le traite des transferts', REB 42 (1984) 181* 

J. Shepard, A suspected source of Skylitzes' Synopsis Historion : the great Catacalon Cecaumenos 1 , 
BGMS, 1 6 (1992), 171—81; J. shepard, 'Scylitzes on Armenia in the 1040s, and the Role of Catacalon 
Cecaumenos, REArm. y ms. it (1975—6), 269— in. 

XXI 1 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

In its entirety, Skylitzes’ Synopsis is thus dependent upon the very small 
nu mber of written works which he had to hand. For the most part (insofar 
as it is possible to tell) he uses a main source, sometimes only a single source, 
such as the Vita Basilii or one of the other books of Theophanes Continuatus , 
so that the source text runs parallel w ithh is and sometimes the rewriting is 
very slight indeed . 41 His is no ‘metaphrastic version’, whose author has felt 
obliged systematically to revise the vocabulary of the original text. Entire 
phrases are reproduced with some slight change in the order of words, 
which earned him the rather severe condemnation of HansThurn: 

For a long time we have made the mistake of over-estimating Skylitzes. I here 
are long sections in which he does nothing more than paraphrase a single source; 
and, when he does ofFer some supplementary information, there is good reason 
to be cautious because it is by no means certain that he is making use of other 
sources in such places. Often all he offers is embellishment (e.g. in the descrip- 
tion of battles) or even imagination. In this respect I totally agree with the con- 
clusions of D. I. Polemis . 42 

This judgment is not inaccurate so far as the first part of the Synopsis is 
concerned — that is, the part which depends on th e continuators of 
Theophanes — but it should not be applied to the complete work too hastily. 
There are passages in which the editing process is thorough enough to 
ma ke one hesitate and ask: did Skylitzes not have some other sources at his 
disposa i? As we have seen, at the beginning of the Synopsis and then, more 
especially, in the reign of Nikephoros Phokas, when he is using source A’ 
and ‘source B’, he is not (or at least not always) content to base his narrative 
on a single source. He is not able to make simultaneous use of two sources 
tending in opposite directions without a certain lack of coordination. 
Kazhdan has succeeded in noting a number of doublets, contradictions, 
and even some references that appear to go nowhere. 

4 [ 

On the literary aspects of Skylitzes 1 work, sec C. Holmes* ‘The rhetorical structures of John 
Skylitzes' Synopsis Historian, Rhetoric in Byzantium , ed, E. Jeffreys (SPRS, n, Aldershot* 2003), 

H* Thu nr p* xxxiii, referring to D* L Polemis* Some cases of erroneous identification in the 
chronicle of Skylitzes', BS, 2 6 (1965), 74—81, that examines an interesting phenomenon: in the 
earlier part of the Synopsis, down to 948, where Skylitzes is using the sources that have survived 
(Theophanes Continuatus , Genesios and £ a recension of Symeon the Logothete ) there are places 
where he provides additional information (such as Christian names) that is not found in the texts 
he is using* Polemis' hypothesis is that Skyiitzes is not dependent on other sources for this infor- 
mation, but that lie has gone in search of it himself (and sometimes has got it wrong). Without 
examin ing the soundness of this hypothesis* one can say that the idea of Skylitzes having made a 
personal effort to complete his sources is attractive. C. Holmes (Basil II) tends to assign him ‘an 
active authorial role' {p.130} but lor the sections where Skylitzes' sources are lost it is always diffi- 
cult to know whether one is reading a source or his own composition. 

John Skylitzes ’ Synopsis historion xxiii 

It is very difficult to tell whether Skylitzes’ modifications follow a set 
pattern. At times there seems to be some system or a definite direction 
in the selections he makes from the source he is using. Thus, in the reign 
of Romanos Lekapenos, he has omitted the erudite digressions found in 
Book VT of Theophanes Continudtus : passages that certainly had no place 
in the kind of abridged history that he had in mind. 4 - He has also avoided 
the eulogistic element that is so often to the fore in his source for this 
reign. Many details favourable to Kourkouas, to Theophanes the para- 
koimomenos and even to Romanos I himself are passed over in silence. In 
the reign of Basil I (where he follows the Vita Basilii very closely, abridg- 
ing it as he goes along) there are certain omissions that also seem to be 
according to some plan. A number of advances made under Constantine 
VII are omitted, presumably because they smacked too much of eulogy. 14 
So too are some other passages, possibly because they were considered 
too implausible, for instance the effects of the emperors vows on the war 
against the Manichees. 45 Thus Skylitzes seems to have remained faithful to 
the principles set out in his prologue 46 and certainly not to have used his 
sources uncritically. 


It is not only the content of his narrative that Skylitzes borrows from his 
predecessors; he found a connecting thread in them (or, at least in some 
of them) by which the Synopsis is held together: it is not difficult to spot 
what it is. The title that foseph Genesios set at the head of his work exactly 
describes what Skylitzes also wrote: a History of the Reigns. It begins (as 
the title and the opening words claim) immediately after the death of 
one emperor (Nikephoros I) and ends with the deposition of another one 
(Michael VI). At least in outward appearance it is divided into reigns of 
different lengths, ranging from a few pages (e.g. Michael I, Romanos 1 1 or 
Michael V, not to mention one of the only two empresses who ruled in their 

45 For an analysis of Skylitzes 1 treatment of the reign of Romanos I: Holmes, Basil II, 125-52, 

44 e*g. Basil I, chs* 29 and. 38, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , ed. Thurn* 15 t— 2 and 160, Vita Basilii , chs. 
59 and 72, where passages in praise of Basil have been omitted. On the other hand, in Basil I, ch, 
26, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , ed. Thum, 145—7, Skylitzes has omitted the insulting epithets 
applied to Michael III in Vita Basilii , ch* 55. 

4 ^ Ih e story in the Vita Basilii , chs. 41—3 (CSHB), 271—6, portrays the emperor’s vows as an essential 
cause of the imperial victory over the Manichees. It ends with the striking figure of Basil letting 
fly three arrows at the detached head of Chrysocheir which has been sent to him; there is nothing 
of this in Skylitzes: Basil I, chs. 18—19, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion, ed. Thurn, 135—40. 

46 For a contrary opinion, see Hirsch, Byzantinische Studien , 374 - 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

own right, Theodora) to as much as forty pages: Basil II Bulgaroktonos 
and Constantine IX Monomachos. In this way the reigns of the emperors 
provide an outer framework for the Synopsis that actually becomes less 
rigid at times, lor example, when a prince Torn in the purple' but too 
young to rule is supplanted by a successful usurper. Thus Constantine 
VII, who held, the title of autokrator on the death of his father, Leo VI , was 
kept in the background for many years by Romanos I Lekapenos until he 
seized control of the government and then exercised his personal author- 
ity for some years, 944—59. The same is true of the brothers Basil II and 
Constantine VIII, both emperor in name, but abandoning the supreme 
position in the empire first to Nikephoros Phokas, then to John Tzimiskes, 
before reigning (theoretically) together until Constantine VIII became 
sole emperor on the death of his brother in 1025. The division into reigns 
does not interrupt the narrative; it comes as no surprise (for instance) to 
find the portrait of Romanos II at the beginning of the reign of Basil and 
Constantine. 47 

There is yet another reason for seeing the Synopsis as a 'history of the 
reigns’: as the narrative proceeds, everything is organised around the rul- 
ing emperor, the autokrator. There is nothing, or at least hardly anything, 
said here about the many events which took place in detachment from the 
sovereign. Even natural occurrences such as comets, earthquakes, famines, 
the appearance of conjoined twins and so forth are interpreted as signs of 
divine approval or censure of this or that emperor. And because his work 
is organised around the emperor, Skylitzes limits himself to those parts 
where the emperor’s writ ran. For him time is defined by the reigns, space 
by the extent of the empire. 

Because it is divided into reigns and focused on the emperor, in com- 
mon w ith several other Byzantine historical works, Skylitzes’ Synopsis 
bears some resemblance to another literary genre well defined in rhetoric, 
the basilikos logos , ‘in praise of the sovereign’. This is especially true of the 
Vita Basilii which Skylitzes did little more than abridge. But while it is ap- 
propriate to observe this resemblance to the rhetorical eulogy, it must be 
pointed out that at the time when Skylitzes was writing, the genres of the 
‘history of reigns’ and of the chronographia were already defined; those to 
whom the Synopsis was addressed knew what to expect. It is well known 
that, when commanded to do so by Constantine VII, the compilers who 
were working at court rifled the extant corpus of historical writing to ob- 
tain selections which they then organised under fifty-two heads according 


Reign of Basil and Constantine, cli. 2, Skylitzes, Synopsis historian^ ed. Thurn, 254. 


John Skylitzes’ Synopsis historion 

to topic ( hypothesis ). 4R Hie titles of those heads are partially known; they 
are of interest, given the extent to which they show what categories the 
Romans of the tenth century devised for the various matters which they 
expected historians to write about. The Constantinian Excerpta started 
out with a section devoted to the proclamation of emperors, and this is 
indeed the first event narrated by a whole series of Byzantine historians 
whose attention is focused on the imperial power. Skylitzes is no excep- 
tion; the beginning of the Synopsis is devoted to the process which brought 
Leo V to power rather than to the reign of Michael I; Leo’s is the first reign 
he really deals with, from accession to death, the latter accompanied by a 
final assessment. And, just like the death of Michael I, the death of Leo V 
is at once an end and a new beginning: his assassin, Michael II, mounts his 
throne. Such are the events which con fer on the Synopsis its measured pace 
and provide its cyclic procession: accession, first measures taken, reign, 
death (or, more rarely, deposition), length of the reign. 

Skylitzes pays special attention to a discrete category of events to which 
the editors of the Constantinian Excerpta had also devoted a chapter (now 
lost) called epiboulaip 9 meaning attempts on the emperors life, attempted 
coups d'etat and usurpations, both abortive and successful. Thus more 
than half the reign of Michael II is taken up with the revolt of Thomas 
the Slav while the attempted usurpation of Euphemios is mentioned 
more th an once. The entire reign of Michael VI Stratiotikos is concerned 
with the revolt of the eastern commanders and the rise to power of Isaac 

After the accession comes the exercise of power. The events which 
Skylitzes chooses to mention fall into two categories: internal matters and 
foreign affairs, which in effect means Constantinople in the one case, war 
in the other. On the home front the question is whether an emperor was 
devout, just, benevolent. As the ancient opposition between church his- 
tory and secular history no longer applied in the middle Byzantine period, 
religious affairs are included too, more frequently in the case of the icono- 
clastic emperors or of Michael III, but in a rather conventional way once 
orthodoxy was re-established. Apart from the appointment of patriarchs, 
foundations and bequests to the church, not much is reported. Pride of 
place is given to the justice, the good (or bad) administration and the 

See Lemerle, Premier humanisms 283— 4; B. Flusin, c Les Excerpta eonstantiniens: logique d’une 
a n ti-h i sto i re’, Fragments d * historiens grecs. A utou r de D enys d Halicarnasse , ed . S . P 1 r t i a (Col lect ion 
de 1 ’Ecole fran^aise de Rome, 298, Rome, 2002), 553—8* 

4^ Peri epiboulon kata bast lean gegon u i on, 'About the attempts on emperors' lives which have taken 
place’, see Flusin, ‘Les Excerpta constantin Sens’, 555. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

personal behaviour of a sovereign (especially up to the reign of Romanos 
II); and these contribute to both the equilibrium and the interest of the 
Synopsis. In certain cases Skylitzes follows his sources in noting the build- 
ings of an emperor, but the only emperor lor whom th is traditional chap- 
ter of the imperial eulogy is filled out in detail is Basil I . 50 A special place 
is reserved lor cultural history; the author is pleased to report how a major 
figure such as Caesar Bardas or a sovereign like Constantine VII was able 
to revive learning . 51 

For Skylitzes (as for his sources) the beginnings of a reign and the 
appointments that went with it are an object of especial attention, indi- 
cating that this was something ol great interest lor Byzantine historians 
and their public. The end of a reign will olten provide our author with the 
opportunity of devoting rather more attention to internal events. Yet in 
many of the reigns it is war (civil or foreign) that occupies centre stage. 2 Ol 
the long reign of Basil II (for instance), the first hall is taken up with the 
revolts of Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas, the second by the Bulgar cam- 
paigns. Other events are distributed between these subjects and dealt with 
briefly as though they were incidental. This is true whether they are strug- 
gles for power (e.g. the disgrace of the parakoimomenos Basil Lekapenos), 
other revolts, church affairs (the death of the patriarch Anthony and the 
accession ol Nicholas Chrysoberges), internal matters (the introduction of 
the allelengyon) , natural phenomena, rare diplomatic developments (Basil 
an d Ven ice) or other campaigns (e.g. the submission ol Khazaria). In the 
case ol John Tzimiskes even more weight is given to his campaigns against 
the Russians and the Bulgars. The theatre of operations shifts around the 
total extent of the empire, from Italy in the west to the eastern frontiers, 
and sometimes the chronology ol the narrative is slightly dislocated. The 
kinds of events described often remain the same: sieges, battles, defeats 
and victories or (the Constantinian Excerpta has a special chapter on this 
topic ) 53 recoveries in the state of affairs. Sometimes there is simply a list 
of places conquered, including naval successes; sometimes, but less often, 
an ethnographic digression to introduce a new enemy . 54 It is noticeable 

50 Skylitzes* Synopsis historian* ecL dhurn, 161—4. "The passages in Theophanes Continuatus (139-48) 
describing the building activity of Theophilos are not reproduced, in the Synopsis, 

Skylitzes, Synopsis historian, ed. Thurn, ioi, 237—8. 

* Tb is is also bow Skylit zes* methods of abbreviation can lead to some unfortunate distor- 
tions: Holmes, Basil 1 1 99—109. 

^ In the Excerpta there are separate heads for battles, leading armies, victories, defeats and defeats 
turned into victories, see FI usin, Tes Excerpta constant in iens\ 555. 

H e.g. Reign of Constantine IX, ch. 9, Skylitzes, Synopsis historian , ed. IF urn, 442—5 and eh. 16, 
Skylitzes, Synopsis historian , ed. Thurn, 455—' 7, on the Turks and the Parzinaks. 


John Skylitzes’ Synopsis historion 

that the exploits of a given person can hold an important place in the war 
stories; th is advances to centre stage a character who has an important 
part to play (a Kekaumenos or a Maniakes), and who is often an eminent 
member of the Byzantine aristocracy too. This is very different from any- 
thing one might find in Hi eophanes, and it very probably says something 
about new ways of fighting. It is also symptomatic of the great interest of 
Skylitzes and his readers in the great families and their members.'' 

The Synopsis historion is not merely a linear succession of reigns; 
a wider, more general plan can be detected. Here too Skylitzes bor- 
rowed (for the period down to the mid-tenth century) from some of his 
sources: Genesios and especially Theophanes Continuatus. That was where 
he found the prophecy of the monk of Philomilion, which provides the 
structure for the beginning of the Synopsis by throwing three key charac- 
ters together in a dramatic encounter and proclaiming their fate: the two 
emperors Leo V and Michael II together with the usurper Thomas the 
Slav. After that, the revived iconoclasm of Leo V provides another link- 
ing element until the re-establishment of orthodoxy under Michael 111, 
thus offering a unifying factor for several reigns. But it is above all from 
Theophanes Continuatus and the ideology which it reflects that Skylitzes 
borrows a huge project, the sole object of which is to enhance the dynasty 
of the ‘Macedonian’ emperors while denigrating the Amorians. There is a 
striking similarity between these dynasties: the one founded by Michael 
IT and occupying the imperial throne until the death ol Michael TIT, the 
oth er the dynasty of Basil I and his successors. Both were instituted by an 
assassination: Michael II killed Leo V and thus rose to power; Basil I did 
the same to Michael III. This similarity, however, is carefully concea led; 
under the orders of Constantine VII (who was only following his family’s 
tradition), Theophanes Continuatus presents a totally different aspect. In 
a powerful narrative the murder of Leo V is projected (with a wea 1th 
of attendant detail) in such a way as to emphasise the sacrilege involved 
C They have slain the Lord s anointed within the sanctuary!’). The justice 
of Theophilos (partly hypocritical)* 8 cannot wash away the indelible stain 
on the succession of Michael of Amorlon. It is a different matter at the 
death of Michael III, where Basil is carefully absolved. 59 This murder is 

Sometimes Skylitzes gives new information (compared with his sources) on the names and titles 
of the people of whom he speaks, but caution is called tor: Holmes, Basil II, 131ft 
S: ' Skylitzes, Synopsis historian, ed. Th urn* 27—8, 

Skylitzes, Synopsis historian, ed. Thurn, 19—23, Theophanes Continuatus , ed, Bekker, 33—40. 

58 Skylit2es, Synopsis historion, ed Thurn, 49—50. 

Theophanes Continuatus , ed, Bekker, 254, Atter a long and violent indictment of Michael hi, 
Constantine lays the murder of that prince at the door of the principal dignitaries of the Senate. 

XXVI 11 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

made ro look like a simple blow for public safety and an act of legitimate 
defence. In a wider sense the entire reign of Michael III ‘the drunkard’ is 
contrived to show that emperor as a godless and unworthy prince, while 
the Vita Basilii creates an image of the ideal sovereign. Those things, 
moreover, which in the case of Michael II are presented as lamentable 
delects (the lowliness of his origins, aggravated by heresy, his rudeness 
and illiteracy) in Basils case become matters for praise. Thus his mod- 
est birth is a sure indication that he will be benevolent to his people; 
nevertheless it is compensated for by a fictitious genealogy and by a 
wealth of portents indicating that he is the emperor chosen by God. Even 
if h e soft-pedals certain details, Skylitzes faithfully reproduces his sources 
on all these points. - ' 

After the end of the reign of Basil I the plan of the Synopsis is perhaps less 
clear, but a favourable attitude towards the Macedonians (some of whom 
are censured) is still perceptible even if it is only in the fact that the author 
seems to have intended his narrative to conclude with the end of that 
dynasty, Michael VI being the last emperor raised up by a Macedonian 
princess. More qualified approval is accorded the great warrior-emperors 
Nikephoros Phokas (especially) and John Tzimiskes, but the pride which 
Skylitzes feels in the Byzantine achievement probably reaches its apogee in 
the reign of Basil II, who was both the legitimate heir to the throne and 
sovereign warrior. Once that high point is past we have to wait until the 
reign of Constantine IX Monomachos to find an overall assessment of the 
period under review. It is alleged, possibly on the authority of a lost source, 
th at it was with that ruler that decadence set in: 

there is one thing which has to be mentioned and I will say it: that it was from 
the time of this emperor and on account of his prodigality and pretentiousness, 
that the fortunes of the Roman empire began to waste away. From that time until 
now it has regressed into an all-encompassing debility . 61 

The general organisation and unity of the Synopsis derive from this overall 
plan and from its unwavering commitment to the centrality of the emperor. 
But it is at a less elevated level that the true literary value of the work is to 
be found and where it re ally succeeds. I am referring to the many stories 
that are included in each reign, discrete stories of one or more episodes 

Skylitzes says that Basil murdered Michael* but he accompanies the mu rd er with all kinds of 
extenuating circumstances; Skylitzes, Synopsis historian , ed* Thurn* 113— 14 and 13 r. 

0 There are some portents announcing the reign of Basil that he leaves aside, but others he retains. 

As for the murder of Michael, see the previous note* 

61 Reign of Constantine IX* ch. 29, Skylitzes* Synopsis historian , ed. Ihurn, 476. 


John Skylitzes ’ Synopsis historion 

which render the work of Skylitzes so immediately appealing. There is (for 
instance) the tragi-comic story of the assassination of Leo V on Christmas 
Eve, prepared for well ahead of time by the apparently irrelevant comment 
on his inferior musicianship. Then too, interrupting the monotonous cata- 
logue of the campaigns of Basil IT, there is the tale of the confrontation of 
Daphnomeles and Ibatzes the Bulgar . 64 Skylitzes, however, wins very little 
credit as a storyteller for he does little more than reproduce what he found 
in those who had written before him. This probably accounts for variations 
in style that hardly seem to have troubled our author. In the earlier reigns, 
down to Theophilos, the style is somewhat archaic; ecclesiastical affairs 
loom large and are treated in some detail. With the reign of Basil T we enter 
the domain of imperial legend. 

After that it is not so much the style in the strict sense of the word 
as the nature of the stories that varies, depending on the sources which 
Skylitzes has at his disposal: more military in character for Tzimiskes or 
Basil II, more balanced in the case of Romanos III or Constantine IX. In 
this last reign, when he describes the campaigns against the Patzinaks and 
especially in the fine digression on the Turks, Skylitzes’ horizons suddenly 
open out way beyond the limits of the Roman empire. It is possible that 
the vigour of the earlier stories has been somewhat attenuated by their 
abbreviation. On the last night of the life of Leo V (for instance), one can- 
not understand why the emperor — visiting the quarters of the papias — was 
recognised by his red buskins. But Genesios and Theophdnes Continuatus 
inform us that the servant who noticed the footwear was lying flat on his 
stomach under the bed of the future Michael II, hence all he could see of 
him was the feet.' Nevertheless Skylitzes has on the whole managed to 
retain the attraction and the interest of the originals. And even though 
the terms he found in his sources sometimes show through in the text he 
has written, Skylitzes has performed his task of compiler in such a way as 
to produce a unity of style and voice, presenting his readers with refined 
and objective narratives of the events he reports, be they heroic or tragic, 
horrible or amusing. 






See Holmes, Basil //, tto, where Skyllzes* penchant for discreet episodes is noted (following 
J. Shepard), 

Leo the Armenian, chs. 6 and 11, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , ed. Thurn, 18 and 22. It is the 
iroparion that Leo sings (badly) that is the signal for the assassins to strike him down. 

Basil II, ch. 42, Skylitzes, Synopsis historian^ ed. 1 h urn, 360—3. 

Zonaras seems to have been very sensitive to differences in the style of the sources he used; he 
apologises (and congratulates himself ) for having respected them: Zonaras, Praef, ch. 2, 8-9. 

Leo the Armenian, ch. II, Skylitzes, Synopsis historion , ed. Thurn, 22; Genesios, ed. Lesmiiller- 
Werner a nd Th urn, 17; Iheophanes Continuatus , ed. Bekkei\ 38. 


John Skylitzes : a synopsis oj Byzantine history 


Simple chough it may be, Skylitzes’ work enjoyed great success at 
Constantinople; this is clear from the transmission of the text and from 
other Byzantine writers who made use of it. In order to make his edi- 
tion, Hans Thurn had access to nine manuscripts of the entire text of the 
Synopsis dating from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. In addition 
to other manuscripts containing only extracts from the work, there is the 
Cbronogrdphia of George Kedrenos which includes the entire text of the 
Synopsis oi Skylitzes almost unchanged. Considering how many Byzantine 
historical works are only known in a single medieval copy ( Theophanes 
Continuatus is a case in point), the Synopsis , without being among those 
wo rks which are best attested, nevertheless occupies an honourable place 
in comparison with them. 

Among the extant manuscripts of this work, the ‘Madrid Skylitzes 5 must 
be mentioned, Codex Matrit. BibLnat.Vitr.26.2. Thurn dates this codex to 
the thirteenth or fourteenth century, but N. G. Wilson has now shown 
that it dates from the end of the twelfth century. 67 With its 574 miniatures 
the Matritensis is one of the most remarkable monuments of Byzantine 
art. 58 It is also the only surviving example of an illustrated chronicle from 
the Greek milieu. 

For a work of which there are many witnesses, the text of Skylitzes is 
distinguished by having been interpolated at an early date. Ilium was of 
the opinion that there stood between the original and all the other surviv- 
ing medieval manuscripts of the work a manuscript (now lost) which had 
already been enriched with marginal notes by an attentive reader who was 
quite familiar with the history and topography of Bulgaria; notes that were 
subsequently incorporated into the text of several manuscripts. Other 
interpolations would have other origins. Special mention must, however, 
be made of the many interpolations which are found in the fourteenth- 
century manuscript U in the edition of Thurn, Codex Vind. Nationalbibl., These are particularly rich and interesting for the history of 
Bulgaria and are the work of a known person: Michael of Diabolis. 

67 N* G, Wilson, 'The Madrid Scylitzes’, Scrittura e civilita z (Turin, 1978), 209-19. 
i ' 8 L luustriation du manuscrit de Scylites de la Bibliotheque nativnale de Madrid , ed. A. Grabar and. 
M. M anoussacas (Venice* 1979); most recently* V. Tsamakda, The illustrated chronicle of Joannes 
Skylitzes in Madrid (Leiden, 2002)* 

69 On the question of the interpolations, see Skylitzes, Synopsis historian , Tb urn’s preface, xxix— 
xxx iv (and the stemma on xxxv) on what he calls 'Skylitzes inter polar us 5 , 

7<J This person was identified by B. Prokic* Die Zusdtze . see J. Ferluga* 'John Skylitzes and 
Michael of Devoid ZRVI> to (1967), 163—70. 


John Skylitzes ' Synopsis historion 

The Synopsis is found in two forms in the medieval manuscripts: a shorter 
one which ends with the deposition of Michael VI the elder in 1057, and 
a longer one using Michael Attaleiates as its principal (if not its unique) 
source. The longer version continues to 1079, embracing the reigns of Isaac 
Komnenos, Constantine X Doukas, Romanos IV Diogenes, Michael VII 
Doukas and the beginning of the reign of Nikephoros III Botaneiates. 
Several questions arise from the existence of these two forms, not the least 
of which is the question of which one is the original form of the work. It 
is unanimously agreed that the shorter form is the earlier one; that is, the 
one In which the narrative concludes with the deposition of Michael VI 
and the proclamation of Isaac Komnenos in 1057, as indeed the title of 
the work as it is found in lhurn’s manuscripts V and M says it will. But if 
what comes after 1057 is a continuation, then the question arises whether 
this too was written by Skylitzes or by an anonymous continuator. In spite 
of what C. de Boor and G. Moravcsik think, there are many arguments 
in favour of the first answer. 71 In the manuscripts in which it is found, 
the continuation follows on without interruption under the same title, 
Synopsis', hence this too is attributed to Skylitzes. 71 Already in the twelfth 
century Zonaras cites it as a work of this author/ 1 Even though the influ- 
ence of Attaleiates is perceptible in the Continuation E. Tsolakis was able 
to assemble a small dossier of reasons for thinking that it was composed 
by the same author as the Synopsis. The general opinion nowadays is that 
Skylitzes first published his chronography in its shorter form and then later 
extended it under the influence of Attaleiates, whose work had recently 
appeared/ 4 According to this likely hypothesis, Skylitzes must have writ- 
ten the Synopsis in the 1080s, the continuation some years (or even dec- 
ades) later. One can imagine that, as he was writing in the time of Alexios 
I Komnenos, his first intention was to end his work before dealing with 
the reign of the uncle of the reigning emperor and that he later decided to 
pursue his project down to the time of that emperor’s predecessor. 

In due course Skylitzes’ work provided material for other Byzantine 
historians. Thus Nikephoros Bryennios, the husband of Anna Komnena, 

71 C* de Boor, * Wei teres zur Chronik des Skylitzes, R 7 , 14 (1905)* 409—67; Moravcsik, 
Byza n ti n 0 tu ret ca y 340, 

72 Manuscripts A (Vindob. Hist. gr. 33, twelfth century) and O (Achrid 79, twelfth century) pro- 
claim that the Synopsis goes until the reign of Nikephoros Botaneiates (O) or to the proclamation 
of Alexios I Komnenos (A). 

7:1 See note 4. 

7J| For the Historia ol Michael Attaleiates (dedicated to the emperor Nikephoros II Botaneiates), see 
Miguel Ataliates, Historia , ed. 1. Perez Martin (Madrid, 2002); Hunger, Literatur der Ryzantiner^ 
1, 382-9. 

xxxii John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

reproduced the digression on the Turks in the Synopsis almost word for 
word in his Historical material ( Hyle his tori as), the first part of which was 
written before the death of Alexios I Komnenos in iii8. 7S Then at the end 
of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth George Kedrenos 
(unknown in any other context) incorporated the entire work of Skylitzes 
almost unchanged in his own chronography, a work that goes from the 
creation of the world to the end of the reign of Michael VI and also bears 
the title Synopsis historion. Around the year 1150 Constantine Manasses 77 
made use of Skylitzes for his Chronike synopsis, a chronography writ- 
ten in verse (a rarity in the Byzantine world) at the command of Eirene 
Komnena, wife of the sebastokrator Andronikos Komnenos/ 8 It was 
probably at the beginning of the second half of the twelfth century that 
John Zonaras, after a career in which he rose to be chief of the imperial 
chancery, withdrew to the monastery of St Glykeria on the Propontis 
and there composed his chronography, beginning at the creation of the 
world and ending with the death of Alexios I Komnenos. 79 ‘The Thracian’ 
{alias Skylitzes) figures among the sources of Zonaras’ Epitome historion 
(‘abridged history’) that was very successful at Byzantium; the same is true 
of the Biblos chronike (‘chronicle’) that Michael Glykas, a former imperial 
secretary composed shortly after Zonaras wrote. Ephraim in the four- 
teenth century and Theodore Gaza in the fifteenth were still using the 
Synopsis.* Thus Skylitzes’ work was neither without influence nor isolated. 
It may not be one ot the most original historical works of the eleventh and 


75 Nikephoros Bryennios, Hyle historias, Nice p hurt Bryennii htstoriarum lihri quattuor , ed. R Gautier 
(CFHB, 9, Brussels, 1975), 88 — 9; Skylitzes, Reign of Constantine IX, eh* 9, ecL Thorn, 442— 5* It 
is by no means certain that Brycnnios did not simply use the same (to us unknown) source as 

76 ed* I Bekker, 23 vols* (Bonn, 1838-9); Hunger, Literatur der Byzantiner , 1, 393, Greek tr*, 11, 

77 edL O. Lampsidis, Constaniini Man as sis Breviarum Chronicu rn, CFHB 36, 1—2, Athens 1992; cf 
Hunger, Literatur der Byzantiner, 11419—22 (trad. Gr, 11:216-17)* 

78 Breviarium historiae metricum , ed. I Bekker, Bonn 1837 
ed* M. Finder and T* Biittner-Wobst, 3 vols* (Bonn, 1841-97) ; see Hunger, Literatur der 
Byzantiner , 1, 416-19, Greek tr*, n, 246—50* On Zonaras* use of Skylitzes: Hirsch, Ryzantinische 
Studien , 379—83. The fact that the witness of ‘The Th racesian* is invoked for the reign of Isaac 
Komnenos (Zonaras 18.7.53 ed. Hirsch, 67 3 4 ) shows that Zonaras knew the Synopsis together with 
its continuation and that he attributes the latter to Skylitzes* 

ed I* Bekker, Bonn 1836; see Hunger Literatur der Byzantiner, 1, 422—6, Greek tr., 11, 255—61* 

See Hunger, Literatur der Byzantiner , 1, 478—80, Greek tr., tt, 329—32* K. [ 'into, Teadoro Gaza. 
Epistole (Naples, T975). Theodore frequently refers to Skylitzes, calling him Sky lax. He mentions 
him by name in his ninth letter, de Origin e Turcarum, ed* Pinto, 100: 'Sky lax, who wrote the great 
deeds of the emperors from Nikephoros the genikos to Isaac Komnenos (under whom he lived), a 
man of no mean intelligence, but whose style is unsophisticated {idiotes). 



John Skylitzes ’ Synops is historion xxxiii 

twelfth centuries, but it does occupy an honourable place in the genre of 


Tli is translation is based on the edition of Hans Thurn. !l On the rare occa- 
sions when it diverges from the edition there is a note to say so. Two solu- 
tions have been adopted for showing the interpolations that Thurn displays 
in smaller type within the body of the text. Where possible, these have been 
included in the text of the translation enclosed with brackets. Where they 
would have disturbed the text, they appear in the notes. In each case it is 
intimated in which manuscripts) the interpolation in question is found by 
using the letters Thurn assigned to them. Where it has been necessary to 
add words not found in the Greek text in orcier to make the meaning clear, 
those words have been place in square brackets. Some technical words 
and terms have been left unchanged {autokrator, parakoimomenos ) while 
for others the modern equivalent has been used (emperor, commander, 
etc.). Proper nouns present a difficult problem; where a modern equivalent 
exists (Michael, Constantinople), that has been used; otherwise the word 
as it stands in the text has been transliterated, using e for eta, y for upsilon 
and 6 for omega. 

Sl See note i. above. 



After the ancient writers, the best compendium of history was written, 
first by George the monk, synkellos to the most holy patriarch Tarasios , 2 
then by Theophanes the confessor, hegoumenos of the monastery of 
Agros. These men carefully read through the history books, making a 
precis of them in simple, unaffected language, touching exclusively on 
the substance of the events which had taken place. George began with 
the creation of the world and continued to [the time of] the tyrants, 
Maximian and Maximinos, his son . 1 Theophanes took the others conclu- 
sion as his starting point and brought his work to an end with the death of 
the emperor Nikephoros, the ex-minister of finance. After [Theophanes] 
nobody continued their effort. There were those who attempted to do so, 
such as the Sicilian schoolmaster* and, in our own time, the supremely hon- 
ourable consul of the philosophers, [Michael] Psellos.' "lhere were others 
too but, because they took their task too lightly, they all failed to write 





George the monk died after 810; he composed a chronicle from creation to al> 284, English trans- 
lation by W* Adler, The chronography of George Synkellos. A Byzantine chroni cle of u niversal history 
from creation (Oxford, 2002). 

Patriarch of Constantinople, 784—806, 

Born in 760, Theophanes was the scion of a military family A fervent devotee of the icons, he 
became hegoumenos of the By thinian monastery of Agros; he died on 12 March 817 (. PmhZ 8107 = 
PEE Th eo ph anes 18)* He is the author of a Chronographia which covers the years 280—815, a 
continuation o f th e work of George Synkellos* English translation by C. Mango and R* Scott, 
with th Greatrex, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor: Byzantine and near eastern history ad 
284—813 (Oxford j 1997)* 

The son of Maximian, one of the Tetrarchs, was in fact Maxentius who was killed by Constantine 
at the battle of the M ilvian Bridge, 28 October 312. 

Theognostos: ODE, in, 2055, 

Michael Psellos (mentioned by Skylitzes in his account of the reign of Michael VI) is the author 
of a Chronographia in which he describes the reigns ol the emperors Basil II to Michael VII 
Doukas, who was his pupil; English translation by E. R. A. Sew ter, Fourteen Byzantine emperors 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

with the requisite degree of accuracy. Many important events they omit- 
ted altogether and their works are of little value to posterity. They are little 
more than calculations of the duration of each reign and reports on who 
held the sceptre after whom — no more. Even when they appear to men- 
tion certain events, these writers do their readers a disservice and no good 
because they fail to write about them accurately. Theodore Daphnopates , 7 
Niketas the Paphlagonian/ Joseph Genesios and Manuel , 10 these two of 
Constantinople, Nikephoros the deacon from Phrygia , 11 Leo from Asia, 
Theodore, bishop of Side and his nephew of the same name who presided 
over the church of Sebasteia , 14 Demetrios, bishop of Kyzikos 5 and the 
monk John the Lydian — these all set themselves their own goals: maybe 
the glorification of an emperor, the censure of a patriarch, or to extol a 
triend — each attains his own ends under the guise of writing history and 
every one of them falls far short of the mentality of those godly men of 
whom we spoke. For in composing a rambling account of his own times 
(and a little before) as though he was writing history, one of them writes 
a favourable account, another a critical one, while a third writes what- 
ever he pleases and a fourth sets down what he is ordered to write. Each 
composes his own ‘history’ and they differ so much from each other in de- 
scribing the same events that they plunge their audience into dizziness and 
confusion. For my own part, I took great pleasure in reading the work ot 
the men [first] mentioned above and I hope that [a continuation of their] 

(London, 1953). But Skylitzes probably used Psellos* Historia syntomos^ edited and translated into 
English by W. J* Aerts (Berlin and New York, 1990)* 

7 Theodore Daphnopates was a senior civil servant who rose to be eparch under Romanus III. 
There survive letters, homilies and saints 5 lives written by him and he may have responsible for 
the later parts of Theophanes Continuatus. 

* Niketas David the Paphlagonian was the disciple of Aretha s of Caesarea (the bitter opponent ot 
Leo VI in the Tetraga my controversy). Niketas edited numerous works in praise of various saints, 
a Commentary on the Psalms and, most notably, a Life oflgnatios in which h is profound antipathy 
to Photios is apparent. 

9 An anonymous History of the Reigns has been attributed to Genesios on the sole authority of a 
marginal comment in the one remaining manuscript of the work. Skylitzes alone gives the mans 
Christian name, Ihere is reason to doubt this attribution, even the very existence of a ‘Joseph 
Genesius’, although a family of that name is well attested from the tenth century onward* 

10 Manuel, Judge and Protospatharios, had apparently composed a work in eight volumes dealing 
with the exploits of John Kourkouas. 

11 No other mention of an author of this name is known, 

11 This is Leo the deacon, who was born c\ 950 at Kaloe of Tmolos (Asia Minor). His History is very 
favoura ble to the family of the Phokai, especially to the emperor Nikephoros II 

13 Author of another lost work. 

14 Possibly the editor of a biography of Basil II, 

Iy Nothing remains of the work of this author who lived in the earlier part of the eleventh century 
and wrote mainly theological works, 

16 An unknown writer who must not he confused with the sixth-century writer of the same name. 

summary will be of no small benefit to those who love history, especially 
to those who prefer that which is easily accessible to what has to be striven 
for; a summary, that is, which will provide them with a brief overview 
of what has taken place at various times and thus free them of the need 
to consult massive tomes of memoirs. I read the histories of the above- 
mentioned writers with great care. I conjured away fro m them all com- 
ments of a subjective or fanciful nature. I left aside the writers’ differences 
and contradictions. I excised whatever I found there which tended toward 

fantasy; but I garnered whatever seemed likely and not beyond the bounds 
of c redibility and, to this, I added whatever I learnt from the mouths of 

sage old men. Ail of this I put together in summary form anci this 1 now 
bequeath to future generations as an easily digestible nourishment, ‘finely 
ground up’ as the proverb has it. Those who have alreaciy read the books of 

the above-mentioned historians will have in this little book a reminder of 

their reading which they will be able to take along with them and consult 
as a handbook. Reading provokes recollection; recollection nourishes and 
expands memory, just as, quite the contrary, negligence and laziness pro- 
voke forgetfulness which darkens and confuses the memory of what has 
happened in the past. Those who have not yet encountered the histories 
will find a guide in this compendium and, when they go in search of the 
more fulsome writings, they will gain a more comprehensive impression of 
the course of events. And now it is time to begin. 


i. [5] After the emperor Nikephoros was slain in Bulgaria, his son 
Staurakios, having survived mortally wounded in the capital, relinquished 
both his life and his throne only two months later.' The emperor’s brother- 
in-law (who went by the name of Rangabe) 2 found himself holding the 
Roman sceptre at the behest of the senate and people. He would have 
refused the office, alleging that he was not competent to sustain the bur- 
den of such great responsibilities. He was in fact prepared to relinquish 
the power in favour of the patrician Leo the Armenian. This Leo gave the 
impression of being a choleric and vigorous type of man. He was serving 
as commanding officer of the Anatolikon army at that time and he had no 
desire to accept it should it be offered to him. He protested his unworthi- 
ness of the imperial throne; it was in fact he who persuaded Michael that 
it was fitting for him to assume the power. Leo took it upon himself to be 
[Michael’s] most faithful and vigorous servant and adjutant for as long as 
he lived; these promises he confirmed with most terrifying oaths. 4 

1 According to Theophanes, Staurakios refused to abdicate even though he was seriously wounded 
(. PmhZ 6890 = PBE Staurakios 2). It was his brother-in-law who usurped the throne with the support 
of the principal officers who had survived the disaster in Bulgaria* Staurakios professed himself a 
monk with the name of Symeon on 2 October 81 1> but only lived until II January of the next year: R 
Grierson, ‘The tombs and obits of the Byzantine Emperors (337-1042) with an additional note by 


C* Mango and I. Sevcenko*, DQP, 16 (1962), 3—63, at 55* His widow, Theophano ( PmbZ 8163 = PBE 
Theophano 2), a relative of the empress E Irene the Athenian, was given a palace (Ta Hebrai’ka) 
which she transformed into a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity (location unknown: R. 
Jan in. La geographic ecclesiastique de l empire byzantin , I, Le siege de Constantinople et le patriarcat 
weumenique , ill, Les eglises et les monasteres de L empire byzantin > 2nd edn (Paris, 1969), 470—1)* On 
Staurakios* marriage see P* Speck, Tine Brautschau fur Staurakios*, JOB> ^9 (1999), 25—30* 

1 O El this reign see W* Treadgold, The Byzantine revival \ 782—842 (Stanford, GA, 1988), 177—89; also 
PmhZ 4989 = PBE Michael 7* 

3 The strategos of the Anatolikon theme commanded the largest of the thematic armies (15,000 
men in theory)* He was the most senior of the army officers, outranking even the domestic o 1 the 
scholai, I bus D. Turner, Hh e origins and accession of Leo V (813-820)*, JOB^ 40 (1990), 171—203; 
also PmhZ 4244 = PBE Leo 15. 

4 Genesios (1*2) says that Michael I preserved the text of these oaths in writing* On this practice 
see N* Svoronos, Xe serment de fidelite a Pempereur byzantin et sa signification const ltutionelle*, 
REB , 9 (1951), 106—42. 


Michael I Rangabe 


2 . Once Michael had thus, somewhat against his own intention, 
come into possession of the reins of the empire,' 1 Krum, the ruler of the 
Bulgars, puffed up by his previous successes, together with his subjects 
(now become presumptuous on account of their victories) burnt and 
de vastated the western regions. So M ichael decided, to mount a cam- 
paign against them, to do the best he could to restrain and throw back 
the Bulgar foraging parties. He therefore quickly sent out orders in all 
directions and troops [6] were hastily assembled. When Krum heard of 
the emperor’s mobilisation, he recalled his own men fro m foraging and 
concentrated them in one place. He established a heavily fortified camp 
there and awaited the arrival of the emperor. When [Michael] arrived, 
he encamped over against Krum, who was sitting near to Adrianople. 
Th ere were frequent skirmishes and battles within archery range and, in 
all these encounters, the Romans seemed to have the upper hand. This 
went to the soldiers’ heads; they urged and yearned for hand-to-hand 
fighting and a general engagement. Either out of cowardice (as they said 
in the ranks) or because he was looking for the opportune moment, the 
emperor delayed and held back. Ihe host became mutinous and shouted 
at the emperor, to his face, threatening that, if he did not lead them 
out, they would break down the palisade themselves and fall upon the 
enemy. Overwhelmed by this argument, the emperor opened the gates of 
the encampment and drew up his battle line. Krum did likewise: he got 
his men into line and stood them over against the emperor. Each [ruler] 
harangued his army at length; each spoke words of encouragement and 
praise, words capable of inciting men to prowess in arms. Finally, they 
gave the signal with the trumpets for battle to commence and each [side] 
charged the other. The Romans now withstoo d the enemy with such 
heroism and fought so bravely that the Bulgar forces were worn down. 

I he enemy wo uld even have considered a general retreat, for Krum him- 
self was already growing weary, riding in all directions and taking in 
hand those [units] of the army which were being sorely pressed. And 
then Leo, the strategos of the Anatolikon theme (who wanted to be em- 
peror), and, with him, the troops under his command (whom he had 

5 Michael was proclaimed on 2 October 811: Theapfmnis Chronographia , 1 and 1 1, ed. C. de Boor 
{Leipzig, 1883-5), 493 • 

6 Archon , which means the chief of a nation when applied to foreigners- 

7 i.e* the themes of Thrace and Macedonia* 

8 The exact location of this place is not known, but its name is Versinikeia* See P. Soustal, Thrakien 
(Thrake, Rodope und Hat m i nontos) (TIB, 6, Vienna, 1991), 205* 

5 The battle of Versinikeia was fought on 22 June 813, Soustal, Thrakien * 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

corrupted) broke ranks and took themselves off in flight, for no reason 
whatsoever. The remainder of the army was astounded at this sight; the 
men’s courage began to wither away. The Bulgars, on the other hand, 
regained their courage and came howling at the Romans as though the 
thought of retreat had never crossed their minds; an d th eirs now be- 
came the winning side. The spirit of the Romans was broken by what 
had happened. They did not wait for the Bulgars’ assault, but immedi- 
ately turned and fled.‘° M any of the soldiers were killed; not a few of the 
comma nd ers also fell. The emperor only just managed to find refuge in 
Adriano pie, together with a portion of the army still intact. From there 
he proceeded to the capital, leaving the above-mentioned [7] Leo and his 
entourage in Thrace, They were to stand their ground against the plun- 
dering of the Bulgars and interrupt their onslaughts. Once he was alone, 
Leo brought out into the open the defection which he had been secretly 
nurturing within. He shared it with his fellow enthusiasts, telling them 
the time was ripe to accomplish what they intended. By the mouths of 
these people he spread the word throughout the whole army that it was 
on account of the emperor’s incompetence and his lack of training in 
military studies that the Roman forces had been reduced [to flight] and 
that the former glory and renown of the Romans had departed. Thus too 
he corrupted the soldiers who, having been dispersed in the rout, came 
back on foot, devoid of arms and equipment, to join the army that was 
wi th h im; an d th us he persuaded them to accept the possibility of revolt. 
Suddenly they flocked around his tent, hurling improper and shameless 
words against the emperor, calling him an unmanly coward who had 
destroyed the Roman forces and besmirched the distinction and glory 
of the empire by his incompetence. On the other hand, they openly 
acclaimed Leo and declared him to be emperor of the Romans. When 
he made light of it and would have rejected the [supreme] command, 



Skylitzes is following a lost work of the patriarch Nikephoros when he accuses Leo of treason. 
Turner, ‘Leo V\ 89—193, challenges this widely held view, basing himself on Genesios (who gives 
two contradictory accounts of Leo’s behaviour) and on Theophanes, a contemporary of the events 
in question, both of whom were well disposed towards Leo* Skyl itzes’ narrative is inconsistent, 
cl a im i ng t hat M ic h ael 1 left Leo heh ind to defend Th race* This h e would surely not have do ne had 
Leo been responsible for the recent disaster. 

MSS AC add: 'one of whom was the magister Michael Lachanodrakes/Lachanodrakon’ but 
there must be some confusion here for the surly partisan of Constantine V would have been 
of a great age by now, and in any case that M ichael is known to have fallen in a previous defeat 
at the hand of the Bulgars, near Marcellai, in 792: Theophanes, ed. de Boor, 468; PmbZ 5027 - 
PZfffMichael 5* One who did fall in this action was the patrician John Aplakes, commander of 
M acedonia: PmbZ 3 197 = PBE John 19; Scriptor incertus^ intro, E. Pinto; text, Italian tr* and notes, 
R ladevaia (Messina, 1987), 318. 

Michael I Rangabe 7 

Michael of Amorion,' 1 ‘the stammerer’,' himself a commander of a unit 
of the Roman army, drew his sword. He invited others who were party 
to the affair to do likewise and then he threatened to execute Leo if he 
did not of his own free will accept the [supreme] command. It was th US 
that the diadem was set on the brow of this man an d th us that he was 
proclaimed emperor of the Romans. 

3. Prior to this, as the emperor Michael was returning after the army 
had been put to flight, he was met by John Exaboulios [4 as he approached 
the capital. He encouraged the emperor to endure the unfortunate occur- 
rence in a noble and magnanimous way; then he sought to know whom 
he had left in command of the army. The emperor replied that he had left 
Leo, the Commander of the Anatolikon theme, a very intelligent fellow 
and devoted to the empire. When Exaboulios heard this, he said: ‘Oh, 
emperor, it seems to me that you are very much mistaken insofar as the 
intentions of this person are concerned.’ That is what he said, and even 
before the emperor arrived at the palace, the public proclamation of Leo 
was reported. I he sovereign was deeply disturbed by that report. He was 
trying to decide what action to take when some of his entourage urged 
him to do everything in his power to hold on to the supreme command 
and to resist the usurper [8] to the full extent of his capability. But he was 
a man of peace, with no wish to involve himself in an affair the outcome 
of which was unpredictable. So he ordered those who were saying such 
things not to incite him to engage in a murderous civil war. And he sent 
off to Leo one of those close to him, bearing the imperial insignia: the 
diadem, the purple robe and the scarlet buskins.' 5 He undertook to cede 
the throne to Leo, for he judged it better to pass from his own life than to 
see the shedding of a single drop of Christian blood. Leo should set asi de 
all fear and uncertainty; let him come and take possession of the palace 
[said the emperor]. The empress Procopia, however, was opposed to what 



Amorion was the seat of the strategos of the Anatolikon theme, the most important of the eastern 
themes* The ruins of the fortress which housed a significant garrison are presently being exca- 
vated: C* S* Lightfootj Y* Morgen, B. Y. Olcay, and J* Witte- Orr, The Amorium project: research 
and excavation in 2000'j DOP, 57 (2003), 279—92* 

This is the future emperor M ichael II (820—9), founder of the Amoriarf dynasty. 

John Exaboulios {PmbZ 3196 = ASiTJohn 81) was then count of the walls* Later he was logoth- 
ete of the drome under Leo V and counsellor to Michael II, from w r hom he received the title of 
patrician. According to Genesios (1*3), Exaboulios was the name of a genos but no other person 
is known by this name. Other Exahoulirai are mentioned in the eleventh century but there is no 
indication that these were related to the above John. 

On the imperial vestments and insignia: P« Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine coins in the 
Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection , II— ill (Washington, DC 3 1968 — 
1973), 1 1 T , 107-45. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

was being done. She said the empire was a fine winding sheet, 1 ' and when 
she failed to convince [the emperor], in order to have the last word, she 
said it would be strange, indeed even more than merely strange, if the 
upstart’s wife were to deck herself out in the imperial diadem. She m ade 
fun of her alluding to her name, calling her Barka’. Then she began to 
think about her own situation. And that is what was going on around the 

The usurper, on the other hand, entered [the capital] by the Golden 
Gate, acclaimed by the army, the senate and the people. He proceeded 
to the [monastery-] church of the Forerunner at Stoudios , 20 and from 
there, accompanied by a guard of honour, he arrived at the palace. As he 
was about to offer to God a prayer on his return in the Chrysotriklinos, 
he took off the over-garment he happened to be wearing and handed it 
to Michael, the head groom , 1 who promptly put it on himself. To those 
who saw it, this seemed to be an omen that he would mount the imperial 
throne after Leo. The emperor then put on another garment and set out 
for the church in the palace. Michael was walking behind him without 
paying attention to where he was going. In this way he recklessly stepped 

16 Hie famous words of th e empress Theodora (quoting Isocrates) at the time of the Nika revolt* See 
J* B. Bury, History of the Later Roman empire from the death of Theodosius I to the death of Justinian , 




z vols, (London, 1923), 11, 45 and note 4* 

The modtolos was a crown used at the coronation; it has been the subject of various studies, 
from P. Charanis, *Thc imperial crown and its constitutional significance 1 , B y 12 (1937), 1S9— 95, 
to A, P. Kazhdan, "The crown Modiolus once more’, ]OB y 38 (1988), 339—40, and C, Morrisson, 
Te modiolos: couronne imperiale ou couronne pour 1 empereuri, Melanges Gilbert Dagron, ed, 
V, Deroche, D. Feisseh C. Morrisson, C, Zuckerman, TM f 14 (2002), 499-510* 

Clea rly an insult, but the exact meaning is unclear. It has sometimes been taken to be a proper 
name, which led Treadgold, Byzantine revival , 198—9, to think that Leo had divorced his first wife 

By this gate the Egnatian Way entered the city, close to the sea of Marmara, The main gate only 
admitted emperors and victorious generals (R. Janin, Constantinople byzantine (TOC, 4 A, 
Paris, 1964), 1 15— 17). Theophanis Chronographia , cd, de Boor, jor, says Leo entered by the Gate of 
Charisios, which is far more likely for one coming from Adrianople, by which name that gate was 
also known. This triumphal entry took place on 11 July 813 and was followed by the coronation 

the day after. 

10 If Leo entered by the Golden Cate, a station would be expected at th is, the most illustrious of the 
Constanrinopolitan monasteries, then under the direction of Iheodore of Stoudios* Following 
the tenth-century historians: Genesios 1.4, Theophanes Conti nuatus, ed, L Rekker {Bonn, 1838), 
18; Skylitzes here describes the traditional route of a triumphal procession. 

11 111 is was one of die state rooms in the sixth-century Great Palace reserved for imperial receptions 
and banquets: Janin, Constantinople byzantine , 1 T 5 — x 7. According to Iheophanes Continuatus y ed* 
Bekker, 19; it was jn the Chalke that Leo prayed on entering the palace, 

M ichael [PmbZ 4990, 5047 = PBE Michael 10) had just been appointed pr&tostrator by Leo, It was 
a great honour to be handed something the emperor had been wearing. Genesios (1.4) says the 
vestment in question was a kolohion y a tunic decorated with the eagle motif. 

Michael I Rangabe 9 

on the hem of the imperial vestment. Leo took this to be a bad omen and 
he began to suspect that an insurrection would originate with that man. 

That is how the usurper entered the palace and came into possession of 
the throne which could have been his without a struggle. Instead, he took 
it with considerable trouble and disturbance. 

The emperor Michael, his wife Prokopia and their children 13 now took 
refuge in the church of the Mother of God known as the church of the 
Lighthouse,' 4 where they sought sanctuary. The usurper expelled them 
from there and separated them from each other. Michael he exiled to the 
monastery on the island of Prote,-’ where his layman’s hair was tonsured 
and where he spent the remaining portion of his life. Theophylact, the 
[9] oldest of Michael’s sons, he castrated and sent him into exile, together 
with his mother and brothers. 

4. H i at is what happened; and here it is worthwhile recalling the proph- 
ecy of the monk installed near Philomelion. 17 There was a person, one of 
the most distinguished of people, whose name was Bardanios Tourkos. 
He was one of the principal members of the senate, a patrician in rank 
and, at that time, domestic of the scholai for the east. He was always con- 
templating the possibility of attempted usurpation and, if it could be, of 
seizing control of the empire, but he was tossed by conflicting emotions. 
He burned with longing for the throne, but he trembled and feared at the 

2: Michael had many children. The names of three sons and two daughters (Gorgo and Theophano) 
are known: PmbZ iiyo; PBE Georgo i; PmbZZ 164 = I } BE Theophano 1. The eldest son (Staurakios) 
was dead already ( PmbZ 6890 - PEE Stavrakios 12). The second, Theophylact (named af ter his 
paternal grandfather), became a monk with the name of Eustratios and died in January 849, aged 
fifty-six ( PmbZ 8336 = PBE Theophylaktos 9)* His younger brother, Niketas, took the monastic 
name of Ignatios; this is the future patriarch: Treadgold, Byzantine revival , 405, n. 163. 

14 Tou Pharou y allegedly built by Constantine V; this is the church whic h ho used the greater part of 
the imperial rel ic collection (Janin, Eglises et monaste res, 232-4), situated (as the name implies) by 
the lighthouse on the Marmara coast, The earliest mention of th is edifi ce is in connection w t kh 
the marriage of Leo IV with the Chazar princess in 768: Theophanes, ed* de Boor, 444. 

Now Kinali island in the sea of Marmara, a traditional place of exile* Bardanios Tourkos was sent 
there a fter the fa H u re of his uprising in 803: R* Jan in, Les eglises et les monasteries des grands centres 
byzantins (Paris, 1975), 70—2. 

2 * The harsh treatment meted out to Michael’s sons rather suggests that the transfer of power was 
not effected quite so smoo thly as the chroniclers suggest. 

A town in the Anatolikon theme, now Ak^ehlr, see K. Belke and N. Mersichj Phrygien und 
Pisidien (TIB, 7, Vienna, 1990), 359-60* 

The name Tourkos (the Turk) might indicate that he had Khazar blood; be was domestic of 
the scholai then strategos of the Anatolikon theme under E Irene and Nikephoros. His career is 
described in E* Kountoura-Galake, *1 le epanastase tou Bardane fourkou 7 , Symmeikta, 5 (1983), 
203— t 5. See also PmbZ y 759, 760, 762, 771 and PBE y Bardanes 3. 

9 An anachronism, for this title is unknown prior to the reign of Romanos II: N. Oikonomides, Les 
listes de preseance byzantines des IXe etXe siecles (Le monde byzantin, Paris, 1972), 329. Bardanios 
was monost rat egos, ‘sole commander \ of all the eastern themes, meaning that he was temporarily 
in command of all the eastern armies, no doubt to coordinate resistance to the Moslems. 



io John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

uncertainty of the outcome. Then he heard that at Philomelion there was 
a monk; a solitary who had attained the acme of virtue, of whom it was 
said that he could foretell the future. [Bardanios] knew that he simply 
had to share his plans with this man and obtain his judgement. Since this 
is what he thought, he devised a hunting party. He took Leo with him, 
a good-looking, fine figure of a man with sound judgement in political 
matters, who served him as equerry-in-chief. He also took with him the 
ab ove-mentioned Michael of Amorion, ‘the stammerer’, and, in addition 
to these two, a fellow named Thomas, an Armenian by race, who had 
his home on lake Gazouro. At a certain point, he told the large com- 
pany of men that was with him to stay where they were while he and the 
men just mentioned went to the monk’s cave. [Bardanios] went in alone 
to the solitary and to lei him what he had on his mind. When these things 
reacheei his ears, the monk immediately discouraged him from what was 
proposed. He asserted that if Bardanios did not obey him and desist from 
his plan, he would both lose the sight of his eyes and be deprived of his 
fortune. The commander lost heart at these words and was very close to 
losing his mind. However, when the customary prayer had been said and 
the commander was about to leave, his horse was brought forward and he 
mounted it. Holding the bridle was Michael; it was Thomas who stead- 
ied the right stirrup and Leo who gave the commander a leg-up into the 
saddle as he mounted the horse. At that point, the monk leaned out of his 
window, peered down at the men and told Bardanios to come back again, 
[to] a recall which the latter received with gladness. In less time than it 
takes to tell, he leapt from the saddle and ran in to the monk, expecting to 
hear something to his liking. Getting him to come and stand close beside 
him again, the monk said: Commander, yet again I advise and counsel 
you in no way whatsoever to have anything more to do with what you 
have in mind. Otherwise, make no mistake about it! It will cost you the 
crippling of your eyes and the confiscation of your goods. But, of the three 
men who brought up your horse, the one who gave you a leg-up when 
you were about to mount, he will be the first to gain possession of the 
throne, and, secondly, the one who held the bridle. As for the third man, 
the one who held the stirrup for your right foot, he will be proclaimed 
emperor but never reign. Furthermore, he will lose his life by a most piti- 
ful death.’ When Bardanios heard th is, he brushed aside what had been 



This is Thomas 'the Slav', who raised a serious revolt against Michael IL 

Lake Karalis to the ancients, Pougouse or Scleros in the Middle Ages, this is now Beysehir Golie, 
one of the largest lakes in Turkey, lying between Galatia and Lykaonia: K* Belke (mit Beitragen 
von M. Restle) Galatien und Lykaonien ( TIB, 4, Vienna, 1984), 218* 


Michael I Rangabe 

said as though it were a laughing matter and reversed his opinion of the 
monk. Now he railed against him as a sorcerer, incapable of foreseeing any 
forthcoming event, rather than as a seer and one who had foreknowledge 
of what was about to happen. All he did was to take stock of this or that 
person from his appearance and, as such people usually do, proceed to 
bring prophecy into disrepute. [Thus he could claim that] a man of patri- 
cian rank, occupying the position of domestic, a man of distinguished 
birth and family, entrusted with ultimate authority, would fail to obtain 
his object, while persons of no distinction, hired hands incapable of say- 
ing from whom they were descended, were to be raised to the summit of 
imperial authority ! 11 

Jesting and sneering like that at what had been said, he made his way 
back to his own command. And there, once he had spoken to his fellow 
conspirators, he raised his hand against the emperor. (It was Nikephoros, 
the ex-minister of finance, who was holding the reins of the empire at 
that time.) Bardanios assembled the largest force he could, had him- 
self proclaimed emperor and established his camp in Bithynia . 33 As soon 
as the emperor heard of Bardanios’ movements, he sent a substantial 
body of men against him. At the very moment when the armies were 
about to fall on each other, however, Bardanios asked for a pardon for 
himself and amnesty for his misdeeds. This Nikephoros granted him 
on the strength of an oa th ? and sent him into exile on an estate of his 
on th e island of Prote . 34 Shortly afterwards, some soldiers arrived from 
Lykaonia, whether of their own accord or at the secret instigation of the 
emperor, who knows? They attacked the estate and blinded Bardanios; 
then they took refuge in the Great Church of GodT Leo, Michael and 
Th omas, the attendants of Bardanios (as we said), [ii] ranged themselves 
on the side of the emperor Nikephoros once the rebellion was declared. 
Ofth ese th ree, Leo was appointed colonel of the corps of the foederati 
and Michael the Stammerer was entrusted with the authority of the 


3 1 



These persons were probably not obscure, e.g. Leo may have been the son of a strategos of the 
Armenia Icon theme named Bardas: Turner, *Leo V\ 172—3; PmbZ 784 = PEE Bardas 4. 

At Vial agm a, where armies traditionally assembled before marching east ( Iheophanes, ed. de 
Boor, 479). 

The revolt of Bardanios lasted from 18 July to 8 September 803: VC Kaegi, Byzantine military 
unrest an interpretation (Amsterdam, 1981), 245—6, 

I he tagma of the Lykaonia ns supported their follow countryman, Nikephoros, who was from 
Pisidia. He brou ght it to Constantinople to assure his safety: Theophanes, ed. de Boor, 480. 

The foederati were a corps cV elite first raised by Tiberius II. Having survived the reverses of 
the seventh century, they were now stationed permanently as a unit in the Anatollkon theme: 
j. F. Haldon, Byzantine praetorians (Bonn, 1984), 246—9. 

12 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

count of the tent 17 while Thomas remained faithful to his own master 
right to the end. 

A Saracen attack on Roman territory took place at that time. Leo 
(who was then a subaltern of the commander of the Anatolikon theme) 
confronted the Hagarenes with the forces under his command and tri- 
umphed gloriously. 40 This gained him a reputation which reached the ears 
of the emperor Michael (Nikephoros had already been killed) who con- 
ferred upon him the rank of patrician. That is how these matters came 

5. It might not be impertinent to record here too the manner in which 
it was revealed to the emperor Michael how he would lose his throne. 
Michael had a maidservant working in his immediate household; she used 
to be afflicted with mental derangement at the time of the new moon. 
When she was prey to this disorder, she would come to the place where 
the ox and the lion stand sculpted in stone, for which reason that place 
is customarily known as the Boukoleon. 4 ' There she would cry out to 
the emperor in a resounding voice: ‘Come down, come down! Get away 
from what belongs to others.’ When this had occurred several times, the 
emperor became alarmed and it caused him no small anxiety. So he shared 
his concern about the matter with one of his customary and familiar 
associates, Theodotos, the son of the patrician Michael Melissenos, 42 also 
known as Kassiteras, 4 - urging him to loo kcl osely into the things she said. 
[Theodotos] gave the following advice: when the maid was prey to the 
m ad ness, she was to be apprehended and asked to whom the residence in 



Michael became count of the tent (chief of staff) for the Anatolikon theme. 

Skylitzes’ text must be disrupted here* It has to be understood that of Bardanios’ th rce followers, 
two (Leo and Michael) have abandoned him and only Thomas remains fait hf uk 
he, Moslems; also known as Ishmaelites and Saracens; see Genesis 21 & 25 where Hagar, the 
Egyptian servant of Sarah, bears a child to Abrah am named Ishmatd, thought to be the ancestor 
of the Arabs. 

4= According to I heap banes, ed. de Boor, 490— 1, Leo had just succeeded Romanos (who had fallen 
fighting the Bulgars in 81 1) as st rategos of the Anatolikon theme when he conquered Thabir bin 
Nasr, killing 2,000 men and taking a great deal of booty. Hence there is a chronological discrep- 
ancy, since Skylitzes credits Leo with this victory while he was still colonel of the foederati. 

I his statue of a lion bringing down a bull stood near the imperial gate to the south of the Great 
Palace, giving its name to another palace near by. Ir was th town down by an earthquake in 1532 
(Janin, Constantinople , 101). 

In 765—6 Michael Melissenos was appointed strategos of the Anatolikon theme by Constantine V, 
whose th ird wife was the sister of Michael 7 s wife. Five years later he suffered a severe defeat at the 
hands of the Arabs: Theophanes, ed* de Boor, 440, 445; PmbZ 5028 = PBE .VI lchael 4* Theodotos 
became patriarch under Leo V: PmbZ 7954 - PBE Theodotos 2. 

On this surname: F* Winkelmann, Quellemtudien zur herrschenden Klasse von Byzanz im 8 und$> 
Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1987), 2:152, 160, 182; also A. P* Kazhdan, 'The formation of Byzantine family 
names in the ninth and tenth centuries 7 , BS, 5 6 (1997), 99. 

4 [ 




Michael I Rangabe 

the palace belonged and by what marks this person could be identified. 
Which is what they did, with Theodotos managing the affair. When the 
woman was apprehended while she was in the grips of madness and asked 
the question, she revealed the name of Leo, his physical features and form. 
She went on to say that if one were to go to the Acropolis, one would meet 
two men there. Of these two, the one riding a mule would surely mount 
the imperial throne. She said her say and Theodotos for his part, paying 
very close attention, went to the place she had mentioned. [12] There he 
recognised the man from the indications she had given; then he knew that 
the woman had said nothing false. However, he repeated not a word of 
what he had learnt to the emperor. He said the woman’s words were mere 
idle talking, sheer nonsense without a word of truth in them. But he took 
Leo by the hand and went into the church of Paul the Apostle by the 
Orphanage. 41 When they had given each other their word, he revealed 
what had been indicated but he withheld the whole truth. He said that it 
had been made known by divine revelation that Leo would certainly take 
over as commander-in-chief of the Romans. He asked that, as the bringer 
of this good news, he might not go unrewarded once it was fulfilled. Leo 
undertook that Theodotos would not be disappointed in his request if 
what he said was borne out by subsequent events. 

6 . Th at is how these things fitted together. It so happened that the war 
between the Romans and the Bulgars mentioned above now broke out; 
this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the one about to be 
related. There were some Bulgars who had left the accustomed dwelling 
place of their forefathers and come into Roman territory, together with 
their families. They were received by the emperor Michael and were set- 
tled in various areas. There were also some Romans who had been taken 
prisoner in the wars of which we spoke, who now ‘broke their bonds asun- 
der’ 45 and returned to their fatherland. Krum, the ruler of the Bulgars, 
demanded the return of all these men. There were advantages in effecting 
this return, according to some of the Romans. 46 The emperor and some 

44 The orphanage (under the supervision of the orphanotrophos) was one of the principal charit- 
able institutions of the capital; it was situated on the Acropolis, where the Seraglio now stands. 
The orphanage of St Paul was founded by Justin II and the empress Sophia in the sixth century: 
T. Miller, The Orphanotropheion of Constantinople*, Through the eye of a needle: Judaea - 
Christian roots of social welfare , ed. E, Han await and C. Lind berg (Kirksviile, MO, 1994), 83-103. 
A school was added to the orphanage in the eleven th century by Alexios Komnenos: S. Mergialh 
Falangas, T’ecole Saint-Paul de Forphelinat a Constantinople, Bref aper^u sur son statue et son 
histoire*, REB, 49 (1991), 237—46, A further study is: J. Nesbitt, 'The Orphanotrophos: some 
observations on the history of the office in light of seals', SBS , 8 (2005), 51—62. 

^ See Ps. 2:3. 

46 Th eophanes, ed. de Boor, 498-9, also mentions this imperial council. The patriarch Nikephoros 
( PrnbZ 5301 = PBE Nikephoros 2) and the metropolitan bishops were in favour ol peace but 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

monks worthy of consideration 47 subscribed to this opinion, thinking that 
by returning the refugees, they would prevent the barbarian from laying 
the land waste. There were others who were of the contrary opinion, led 
by the patriarch Nikephoros, the magister Theoktistos 4 ^ (the leading man 
of his time in virtue and intelligence) and by no means a few others. They 
said it was better to commit personal interests to God and not, by the sur- 
render of the fugitives, to set aside the all-power ful aid of the Deity merely 
to propitiate the false pretensions of the barbarian. As there was no agree- 
ment whatsoever on this vexed question, the above-mentioned war with 
Krum broke out: which brought about the defeat of the Romans and the 
destruction of many of them. It would appear that God, in his providence, 
was directing affairs otherwise. 

Theodore of Stoudlos was opposed to the idea of surrendering the renegades* Skylitzes (no doubt 
wrongly) numbers Nikephoros among those who were in favour of war. 

47 Although he is not named* this is almost certainly a reference to Iheodore of Stoudios, on whom 
see (most recently) T. Pratsch, Theodoros Studites (jyj—826) zwischen Dogma und Pragma: derAbt 
des S tu di osklosters in Konstantinopel im Spannungsftld von Patriarchy Kaiser und eigen cm Anspruch 
(Berlin, 1998); also R. Cholij, Theodore the Stoudite: the ordering of holiness (Oxford, 2002), and 
PmbZ 7574 = PBE Theodoros 15. 

Theoktistos, patrician and quaestor ( PmbZ 8046 = Theoktistos 2), was involved in the over- 
throw ot E Irene on 31 October 802 (Theophanes, ed* de Boor, 476)* He was made magister by 
Nikephoros, whose close adviser he remained th roughout the reign. I le also played a leading role 
in the transfer of power to both Staurakios and to Michael Rangabe. 


Leo V the Armenian [813—820] 

1. [13] Meanwhile, having assumed the office of emperor, Leo appointed 
Thomas [‘the Slav’] colonel of the corps of the foederatL This was one 
of the three men who, as our narrative recorded, accompanied Bardanios 
when he visited the monk at Philomelion; a young, impetuous man. 
llie emperor made Michael the Stammerer who was godfather to his 
son and also one of the three, patrician and count of the regiment of the 
Exkoubitores. As for the other affairs of state, [Leo] disposed of them as 
he pleased. 

Puffed up even more by the recent defeat of the Romans, the Bulgars 
overran Thrace, laying waste and devastating wherever their foot trod. 
The emperor decided to send an embassy to initiate peace negotiations, 
but when the Bulgar rejected the peace proposal with an angry snort, he 
had no choice but to fight. 4 Accordingly, once the armies were assem- 
bled, a violent battle ensued and, again, the Roman forces got the worst 
of it. The Bulgars fell to pursuing them and the emperor, standing on an 
elevated site with his retinue, saw what was happening. He realised that, 
in pursuing the fleeing troops, the Bulgars were not following any plan 
and that they had completely broken ranks. He therefore rallied the men 
accompanying him, exhorting them to be of good courage and not to let 
the reputation of the Romans waste away to nothing. Then he made a 
lightning assault on the enemy, a move so unexpected that he was able to 

3 On this reign see (most recently) T. K. Korres, Leo V the Armenian and his age: a crucial decade for 
Byzantium (811—820) (in Greek) (Thessalonike, 1996), 

1 Tou rma rch of the tagma . 

’ Skylkzes has passed over some very serious events. In July 813 Leo tried to surprise K rum and kill 
him while negotiations were in progress. This so enraged the khan that he ravaged Thrace as tar 
as Canos, burning and devastating Selymbria, Rhaidestos and Apr os. M eanw hile Kr u m s brother 
seized Adrianople and numerous prisoners were taken back ro Bulgaria. Krum died suddenly on 
13 April 814 while attacking Constantinople yet again. The uncertainties of the Bulgar succession 
led to the lifting of the siege: W. Treadgold, The Byzantine revival , 782 - 83 2 (Stanford, CA, 1988), 

4 By r lie beginning of 816 Omurtag, son of Krum, bad esta blished h imselt as Khan of the Bulgars. 

1 6 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

turn back those whom he encountered and to th row the rest of the Bulgar 
forces into confusion by this unexpected attack. They were so filled with 
terror and dismay that nobody gave a thought to valour. Many were those 
who fell in th is attack, including the commander-in-chief, although he 
was quickly placed in the saddle of a very fast horse by his close associates 
and was able to save his life by running away. Many more were taken pris- 
oner than fell in the field. 5 * This action humbled the high-minded Bulgars 
while giving new courage to the Romans, whose hopes had been flagging 
and falling low. [14] Re-entering the capital with illustrious trophies and 
much booty, the emperor applied himself to the affairs of state. 

2. It was at this point that the emperor recalled to mind the matter of the 
monk of Philomelion; he resolved to reward him with gifts and offerings 
for the prophecy concerning himself. So he sent one of the men in whom 
he had the most confidence, entrusting him with offerings: furnishings, 
vessels of silver and gold and sweet-smelling goods such as are sent to us 
from India. But it emerged that the monk in question was dead and that 
another monk was installed in his cell as his successor. This monk’s name 
was Sabbatios, one who was filled with the godless heresy of those who 
oppose the icons. 7 When the man sent by the emperor arrived in the pres- 
ence of this monk, he urged him to accept the gifts which the emperor had 
sent for his master — and to reward the sender with a letter and his prayers. 
But the monk, unwilling to receive what was sent, urged the bearer to 
retrace his footsteps. The emperor was unworthy of the purple (he said), 
because he was addicted to the idols and, moreover, he put his trust in what 
had been said by the empress Eirene and the patriarch Tarasios. Of these, 

5 The sources differ in their accounts of the battle* Scrip tor incertus , intro. E. Pinto; text, Italian trs. 
and notes, R Iadevaia (Messina, 1987), claims that Leo took the enemy camp by surprise, at night. 
All agree, however, that the emperor scored a great victory (April 816). 

1 After the defeat of 816 the Bulgars agreed to a peace treaty at the end of that year* It was to be 
valid for three-quarters of a century, and it provided for the restoration of Thrace and Macedonia 
which had been gravely damaged in the recent wars: W, Treadgold, "The Bulgars* treaty with the 
Byzantines in 8i6\ Rivista di Studi Bizantini e Slavic 4 (1984), 213-20, 

7 The iconoclastic controversy broke out in the reign of Leo III the I saurian a nd was exacerbated 
under his son, Constantine V Kopronymos, who made iconoclasm the official teaching of the 
empire at the council of Hiereia in 754* With the support mainly of the monks the empress 
Eirene re-established the cult of images at the council of 787, but significant opposition to their 
use still smouldered among both clergy and laity. The confrontation was acrimonious, icono- 
clasts calling their adversaries idolaters while these charged those with impiety. Of the many 
writings on iconoclasm, see Cl. Dagron, Histoire du christianisme , tv: Hveques , moines et empereurs 
(610—10JJ-), ed, G. Dagron, P, Riche and A. Vauchez (Paris, 1993), 93— 105. On the sources for this 
period: L. Brubaker and J. Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era (ca 680—850): the sources; An 
annotated survey with a section on the architecture oj Ic onoclasm : the buildings by R. Ousterhout, 
Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman mongraphs 7, Aldershot 200T. 

Leo V the Armenian 


he called Eirene ‘panther’ and ‘folly’, while this evil man renamed that 
ever-memorable patriarch ‘taraxios’ [trouble maker]. He threatened that 
the emperor would soon fall from his imperial rank and lose his life unless 
he were quickly convinced by the monk’s arguments and overturned the 
divine images. When the sovereign received the letter and learnt fro m the 
messenger what he had heard the monk say with his own ears, he was 
deeply troubled. He sent for Theodotos Melissenos and discussed with 
him what should be done concerning this matter. Now Theodotos had 
been in the clutches of this [iconoclastic] heresy for some time and was 
only waiting for the right moment to speak openly of such impiety. Some 
such advice as this he gave to the emperor: there was a monk living in 
Dagisthe 9 (he said) who performed extraordinary deeds. ‘The matter must 
be entrusted to him,’ he said, ‘and whatever he prescribes, that is what must 
be done’ — that is what he said to the emperor. Then he came out quickly 
and went to the monk in question and said to him: [15] ‘Tomorrow night 
the emperor will come to you in ordinary clothing, to ask about the faith 
and other pressing matters. For your part, you are to remember to threaten 
him with the imminent loss of his life and his fall from the throne, unless 
he choose of his own free will to embrace the dogma of the emperor Leo 
the Isaurian and to cast out the idols’ — that is what he called the holy 
icons — ‘from the churches of God. Nor must you forget to promise him 
that, if he adopts the way of life you suggest, he will enjoy a long life and 
a fortunate reign of many years.’ Having given the monk his instructions 
and coached him in what he ought to say to the emperor, he went his way. 
Shortly after, taking the emperor with him dressed in ordinary clothing, 
he came to the monk by night. When the conversation was under way, 
the monk, standing right next to the emperor, said to him (as tho u gh it 
had just been revealed to bim by divine inspiration that this man was of 
imperial rank): ‘What you are doing is not sensible, O emperor, deceiving 
us with private citizens’ clothes and concealing the emperor hidden within 
them. Do what you will, the grace of the divine Spirit has not allowed 
us to be outsmarted by you any longer.’ The emperor was taken aback 
when he heard this and realised that he had not succeeded in concealing 
his imperial rank beneath a simple costume, but this is hardly surprising 
in one who did not know the mischief that was being practised on him. 

§ Pardo in Greek, possibly a reference to her father whose name might have been Leo Pardos. 

Dagisthe took its name from the palace (no doubt built by Justinian’s general Dagisthe) and baths 
of that name lying between the forums of Constantine and Theodosius. The pa lace in question 
belonged to Leo; he had received it from the emperor Nikephoros; R. Jan in, Constantinople byzan - 
tine (AOC> 4A, Paris, 1964), 331—3. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Taking the monk to be a godly man, he obediently undertook speedily to 
execute what he proposed; he accordingly decreed the taking-down of the 
sacred icons. 

First of all, he made a secret enquiry whether it was possible for him to 
accomplish what he had in mi nd without stirring up a storm in church 
circles. Then he brought the dogma out into the open and the leading 
citizens and churchmen bowed to his command, some willingly, some 
against their will. Even the great patriarch Nikephoros of eternal memory 
was being coerced to set his signature to the document ordering the holy 
icons to be taken down. And, when he refused to be coerced, this patri- 
arch Nikephoros (who had observed some time beforehand the sinister 
intentions of Leo and how he would harm and disturb church affairs) 
was exiled by the emperor to Prokonnesos. 0 Incieed, when the blessed 
Nikephoros was setting the diadem on Leo’s head, it haci seemed to him as 
though his hands were being pierced by prickles and thorns — which he set 
down as a symbol and omen of the evils which ensued. 

[16] When the great patriarch was being taken into exile,' Theophanes 
Confessor, hegoumenos of the monastery of Agros, was staying on an 
estate [of that monastery]. Perceiving the others approach by divine 
inspiration, he accompanied him with incense and lights as he went by in 
a ship. As for the patriarch, he received this salutation with profound acts 
of obeisance, greeting Theophanes in return by stretching out his hands 
in blessings. Neither man saw, nor was seen by, the other; but, behold- 
ing each other with the eyes of the spirit, each one offered the other the 
customary reverence. One of those who travelled with him asked the 
patriarch: 'Lord-and-m aster, whom were you greeting with your hands 
raised on high?’ ‘The most holy confessor, Theophanes, hegoumenos ot 
the Agros monastery, who accompanies us with incense and lights,’ he 
replied. Not long afterwards, the patriarch’s prediction was borne out by 
the event for, before long, Theophanes (along with many others) was ban- 
ished from the church. After being subject to many and unlimited woes, 
he received the confessor’s crown, never again being permitted to set eyes 


j i 

I 2 

A large island, in the sea of Marmara, famous for its marble quarries which furnished the material 
for many of the buildings erected in the earlier Byzantine period, 

13 March 815. 

Born into a military family in 760, Theophanes became hegoumenos of the Agros monastery in 
Bithynia. He is the author of the chronicle {Chronograph id) which concludes with the accession 
of Leo V (Skylitzes mentions him in his prooimion). On the Agros monastery see C. Mango and 
I. Sevcenko, 'Some churches and monasteries on the southern shore ol the sea of Marmara’, DOI\ 
ij (1973), 259 ff; on Theophanes as chronicler, see A, Kazhdan, in collabo ration with L, R Sherry 
and C. Angelidi, A history of Byzantine literature ( 6 jo— 8 jo) (Athens* 1999), 205—34. 

Leo V the Armenian 


on the patriarch, so that not even in this particular did his prediction fail 
to come true. 

Once the patriarch had been sent into exile, as we reported, on the very 
day of the resurrection of the Lord, Theodotos Melissenos (also known as 
Kassiteras, as our narrative said) unworthily acce ded to the patriarchal 
throne. Once he had mounted the throne, having the cooperation of the 
imperial autho rity, he proclaimed the heresy of those who were opposed to 
the icons, no longer in secret and in corners, but openly and boldly. 3 * * * * * * * * * * 14 

3. Puffed up by the above-mentioned victory against the Bulgars, Leo 
had also recently achieved some success against the Arabs. He was now 
unbearable in his attitude, inclined to be harsh and very cruel. He became 
implacable in his anger and excessively severe in punishing faults. To those 
who wished to plead with him, he had nothing to say and was very hard 
to deal with. For small offences he awarded heavy punishments. For some, 
he cut off a hand, for others a foot or, in other cases, [17] some other vital 
member. The pieces which he had ordered to be amputated he now caused 
to be hung up along the main thoroughfare, no doubt to strike consterna- 
tion and fear into those who beheld them. Thus he earned the hatred of all 
his subjects. 

4. Subsequent events increased that hatred yet further, for it was not only 
against men of equally distinguished origin that he raged and stormed; he 
was also filled with frenzy against the sacred faith itself and against God. As 
his efficient agent for this business he employed a man well known for vil- 
lainy, the master of the order of palatine choristers. Outwardly he seemed 
to be worthy and god-fearing but within, as though beneath a thick fleece, 
he was really a wolf lying in wait. Th is wicked man 15 found a suitable occa- 
sion to strike; it was when — as custom dictated — one read aloud in church 
the prophecy of that most eloquent of the prophets, Isaiah, the one which 
says: ‘To whom will ye liken the Lord? Or with what will ye compare 

3 ’ Convicted of revering the icons, Theophanes was banished to Samot brace where he died in March 

817, His Life can be read in Tbeophanis C h ro n agraphia , ed, C* de Boon z vols. (Leipzig 1883 — 5), 

11, 3-3°- 

]4 Before reintroducing the acts of the iconoclast council of Hicreia, Leo V did in fact discuss the 

matter with the most eminen t eh urchmen, including the patriarch Nikephoros a nd Th eodore, 

hegoumenos of Stoudios* monastery, both of whom were in favour of the icons* He overrode their 

opposition and re-enacted iconoclasm just after Easter 815 — without encountering a great deal of 

opposition from the secular church (Dagron, Histoire du Ch risti a n is m e> iv, 139— 41)* 

15 According to the S crip tor incertus (349—52), John the Grammarian, subsequently synkellos and 

patriarch under Theophilos ( PmbZ 3199 = PBE Ioannes 5), was ordered ro peruse the works of 

ancient authors in the libraries looking for arguments to support the condemnation ol the cult of 

images* It is by no means certain that this is the man to whom Skylitzes is referring since there is 

no confirmation of John ever having been the palace choirmaster* 


John Skylitzes : a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

him? Was it not the carpenter who made the image, the goldsmith who 
melted gold and gilded it, and made a likeness of himself’ ... and the rest 
of the prophecy. Then he approached the emperor and whispered in his 
ear: 'Give understanding to what is said [here], oh emperor, and do not let 
the truth elude you. Embrace the pattern of devotion which the prophet 
proposes for you.’ And, so saying, he implanted yet more of th e poison 
of the heresy in Leo’s mind. The result was that the manner of wars hip 
which, formerly, he was at pains to proclaim sparingly and with hesitation, 
he now proclaimed brazenly and shamelessly. Or, to speak more plainly, 
he compelled people to follow the heresy by threats and affliction. From 
that day, all those who chose the softer path and betrayed the truth were 
safe and sound; but those who disobeyed his most sacrilegious command 
were handed over to irremediable tortures and afflictions. 

5. in spite of such impiety and criminality, he was extremely vigilant 
in his handling of affairs of state, to the point that [18] nothing necessary 
or us eful was left unattended to. Ihey say too that, after his death, the 
patriarch Nikephoros opined that, although the Roman state had indeed 
lost an irreligious ruler in Leo, he was, nevertheless, a great one. And, in 
addition to his diligent and attentive administration of public business, 
he was the implacable foe of those who acted unjustly. Thus, one day as 
he was leaving the palace, a man came up to him and complained that a 
member of the senate had taken his wife away. ‘I complained to the pre- 
fect of the city about this, but received no satisfaction.’ H aving heard what 
the man said, the emperor immediately ordered the accused senator and 
the prefect to appear before him when he returned. Immediately, when he 
was home again, the aggrieved man who sought justice, the one who had 
committed the alleged deed and the prefect himself appeared before him. 
When the emperor commanded the plaintiff to relate what had befallen 
him, the man explained the matter from beginning to end. As for the one 
accused of the offence, since he was unable to escape from the accusation 
and co uld see that he was hemmed in on every side by the allegations 
against him, he confessed his transgression. When the emperor asked the 
prefect why he had not awarded a fitting punishment for this crime, he 
was struck dumb and incapable of offering any excuse, so the emperor 
dismissed him from his office. He handed the adulterer over to suffer the 
punishments prescribed by law. For most of the time, the emperor used to 
sit in the Lausiac hall appointing commanders, generals and governors, 


Isa, 40:18—20, read at the morning office (orthros) on Tuesday of the fifth week of Lent. 

Leo V the Armenian 


choosing them from among the most worthy and incorruptible of men, 
being disdainful of money and very parsimonious himself.' 7 

6. He was very proud of his voice and aspired to be something of a 
musician, but his natural gifts were not commensurate with this aspir- 
ation. 18 He could not keep time and he had little talent for singing in tune 
eith er. Nevertheless, he was accustomed to lead the worship in the psalm- 
singing, and especially so when the canons of the feast were being sung 
on the day of Christ’s nativity. He would intone the odes with his stri- 
dent but untrained voice and when he intoned the verse of the seventh 
ode [for Christmas] which begins: 'For love of the Sovereign supreme they 
poured contempt . ..’ he opened himself up to be laughed to scorn by 
those who heard him, he who had ‘poured contempt’ upon the fear of God 
and thrown in his lot with the demons by denying the all-sacred icons. So 
much for the emperor in these matters. 

7. [19] Michael of Am orion, ever attempting to advance and to rise to 
higher things/ was accused of high treason. Having albeit with diffi- 
culty cleared himself of this charge, he was sent by the emperor to drill the 
troops under his command. Now Michael was prone to all the other vices, 
but he was especially incapable of disciplining his tongue, the very mem- 
ber which is capable of divulging the secrets one hides within the heart. 
He spoke all his thoughts openly and even uttered some unseemly remarks 
against the emperor himself, threatening to deprive him of the throne and 
to take his wife in an unholy union. When the emperor heard about these 
things he first attempted resourcefully, without revealing the nature of 
this knowledge, to turn Michael aside from his imprudent loquacity and 
evil counsels, for he knew that the man suffered from the terrible affliction 
of an unbridled tongue. But when he had taken resource, to the extent 
practicable, to threats and exhortations, he discovered that Michael not 
only denied saying the things that were said but also, once he had again 
gained the courage, did not distance himself from what he intended to do. 
He secretly sent out spies and eavesdroppers against him, who frequently 
encountered him at banquets and drinking parties when, detached from 
his wits by wine, he quite enthusiastically added to his former statements, 
lliey duly reported this to the emperor and their testimony was endorsed 

It is surprising to read this frank praise of an iconoclast emperor* Theophilos 
approval for his sense of justice. 

:h: The other sources credit Leo with a fine voice and praise his musicianship. 

Hirmos of the seventh ode of the iambic canon sung during the morning office 

20 M ichael was by now a patrician and domestic of the Exkoubitai. 

receives similar 

(orthros) on 25 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

by Hexaboulios , 11 a man of good sense and a frequent companion of the 
emperor, not unknown to Michael. He often tried to turn Michael aside 
from talking indiscreetly. He counselled him to be silent and not to speak 
out so inopportunely, attracting such obvious danger to himself. But, 
since he would not heed the warnings, the man made a clean breast of 
everything concerning Michael to the emperor. So, on Christmas Eve, 
being in possession of these allegations, the emperor presided over a court 
of inquiry in the chamber of the principal secretaries, discharging the 
role of a diligent examiner of the charges that had been laid. Michael was 
now convicted of attempted usurpation; indeed, he was obliged to admit 
it himself, such was the weight of the evidence against him. He was con- 
demned to death by fire. Ifiey were to throw him into the furnace of the 
palace bathhouse and the emperor was going to witness the execution. He 
was led away, a prisoner condemned to death, the emperor following after, 
eager to see what was going to happen next. 

8 . [20] As they made their way to the bathhouse, the empress Theodosia 
(Arsaber’s daughter) heard what was going to take place. She came fly- 
ing out of her boudoir, burning with rage and fury. Approaching the 
emperor, she told him that he was an offence to heaven and an enemy 
of God if he failed to exercise forb earance on this sacred day in which 
he was going to receive the communion of the divine body. And she 
blunted his determination, for he was afraid of offending God. So he 
straightaway reversed his judgement and granted Michael a reprieve. 
But he put him in leg-irons and kept the key himself, giving the keeper 
of the palace 14 charge of the prisoner. Then he turned to his wife and 
said: woman, thanks to your ravings, I have done as you required. But 
before long, you and my offspring will see what bad fortune is in store 
for us, even though you have delivered me from sinning this day.’ Thus 
he, who was by no stretch of the imagination a prophet, accurately pre- 
dicted the future. 




The same name occurs above in the form of Exaboulios. Leo V had promoted him to patrician 
and appointed him logothete of the drome. This is why he was given the responsibility ol keeping 
an eye on Michael* Among other departments, the logothete of the drome directed the intel- 
ligence services. 

24 December 820. 

Ar saber, patrician and quaestor of Armenian origin, rebelled against Nikephoros I in 808 ( ODB , 
1, 156 and PmbZ 600 - PBE Ar saber 1). ih eodosia bad already crossed her husband on th e ques- 
tion o f th e Scons, the patriarch Nikephoros having asked her to intervene to prevent him from 
condemning them. 

The papias was the keeper ol the keys of the palace, superintendent ol its buildings and chief warder 
of its prison. No other mention ol th is office is known prior to the reign of Leo VI: N. Qikonomides, 
L es listes de p r heart ce hyzan ti n es des IXe et Xe si ecles (he m on de by za n t i n , Paris, 19 72) , 1 o 6 . 

Leo V the Armenian 


9. It is said that an oracle had been delivered to him some time earlier 
which said that he was destined to be deprived both of the imperial dig- 
nity and also of his very life itself on the day of the birth and incarnation 
of Ch rist our God. It was a Sibylline oracle, written in a certain book in 
the imperial library which contained not only oracles, but also pictures 
and the features of those who had been emperors, depicted in colours. 
Now there was a ferocious lion portrayed in that book. Above its spine 
and going down to its belly was the letter X. There was a man running 
after the beast and striking it a mortal blow with his lance, right in the 
centre of the X. On account of the obscurity of the oracle, only the then 
quaestor could make sense of its meaning: that an emperor named Leo 
was going to be delivered to a bitter death on the day of Christs nativity. 
The emperor was no less dismayed and frightened by his own mother’s 
vision. It seemed to her (who was a frequent visitor at the holy church 
of the Mother of God at Blachernae) that she met a maiden there car- 
rying a lance, escorted by two men dressed in white. But she also saw 
that sacred church filled with blood; and the maiden in the vision ordered 
[2lj one of those dressed in white to fill a vessel with blood and give it to 
Leo’s mother to drink. She protested that throughout her long widowhood 
she had eaten neither meat nor anything else containing blood, and this 
was her excuse for not touching the vessel. ‘Then why,’ the maiden angrily 
exclaimed, ‘does your son not refrain from filling me with blood and from 
angering my son and God?’ From then on, she used to intercede wi th h er 
son to desist from the h eresy of the iconoclasts, recounting the vision in 
tragic tones. And there was yet another vision which troubled him more 
than a little. In his dreams he saw the patriarch Tarasios of blessed mem- 
ory, long since passed from this life. He seemed to call upon the name of a 
certain Michael, inciting him against Leo, to deal him a death blow. The 
prediction of the monk at Philomelion disturbed him too, as well as the 
exchange of garments which Michael had affected, which we related above 
in the course of the narrative. Frightened by all these things, the emperor 
fell prey to fear. His soul was tossed hither and thither; hence, he was fre- 
quently awake all night long. 

10. Wiser counsels prevailing (or, at least, an attitude more becoming of 
an emperor), Leo forced the door leading to the palace keepers quarters 


'Hie compilation of imperial oracles (as opposed to Sybillines) is only attested in rather late VIS 
but there is good reason to suppose that such texts were being made prior to the seventh cen- 
tury: ODB y 1890—1, On the uses of prophecies in general: P. Magdalino, "The history of the future 
and its uses: prophecy, policy and propaganda 7 , The making of Byzantine history: studies dedicated 
to Donald M. Nicol y ed. R. Beaton and Ch Roueche (London, 1993), .3—34- 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

and looked in to see what was happening. As he entered a room, a sight 
met his eyes which left him dumbfounded. He beheld the condemned 
man lying gloriously ensconced in a high bed, while the palace keeper lay 
on the b are floor. He approached and looked more carefully at Michael. 
Did he have the shallow and troubled sleep of those whom destiny tosses 
around and whose life is a gamble? Or did he, on the contrary, enjoy a calm, 
untroubled rest? When he found him sleeping calmly (he couldn’t waken 
him even when he touched him) his anger became yet more inflamed at 
this unexpected revelation. He went off at a deliberate pace, inveighing 
not only against Michael, but against the palace keeper too. 

ii. So much for the emperor. This [visit], however, did not pass unknown 
to the palace keeper’s stalf, for one of Michaels chamberlains recognised 
the purple buskins 26 [22] and reported everything in detail. Greatly per- 
turbed and almost beside themselves at what they had heard, the palace 
keeper’s staff puzzled their brains how to escape from danger. Day was 
breaking when Michael came up with this insidious plan: there were cer- 
tain grave sins on his conscience which he wanted to confess to a godly 
father, using as intermediary Theoktistos, whom he later promoted to 
be prefect of the inkpot. I * * * * * 7 The emperor gave his approval and Michael, 
having summoned up his courage, said to Theoktistos: ‘Now is the hour, 
Theoktistos. Threaten the conspirators that unless they make haste to get 
me out of danger, I am going to reveal the whole business to the emperor.’ 
When Th eoktistos had done as he was bidden, those who were privy to 
the plot encountered an unfortunate difficulty. They cast around in their 
minds how to save themselves and how to rescue Michael, who was now 
in even greater danger of death than before. They devised a plan to deliver 
themselves which would not only save Michael’s life, but gain him the 
offi ce of emperor. In those days it was not the custom (as it is now, and has 
been since the time of which we are speaking) for the clerks who sing in 
the palatine church to live in the palace, but each in his own home. About 
the third watch of the night they would assemble at the Elephantine Gate 
and proceed from there to the church where they would sing the dawn 

I lie other sources say this person was sleeping under M ichael s bed, h ence he would, only see the 

feet of the visitor, 

Th is Theoktistos, a eunuch not to be confused with the magister of the same name mentioned 

above, must have been very young at the time. He served the Amorion dynasty faithfully until he 
was assassinated by Caesar Bardas: ()DB y iit, 205b, PmbZ 8050 - PBE Theoktistos 3, 

Located within the Great Palace, the Elephantine (or Ivory) Gate provided access to the gal- 
leries on the upper floor of the palace of Daphne; this is where the prison of the Great Palace 

was located: R. Guilland, Etudes de topographic de Constantinople Byzantine , 2 vols. (Amsterdam, 

1969), I, 170. 

Leo V the Armenian 

2 5 

service. The conspirators mingled discreetly with the clerks, their daggers 
hidden in their cloaks, and went in with them, lhey then assembled in a 
dark corner ot the church, awaiting the prearranged signal. As the hymn 
was being sung, the emperor — who was already there — led off the sing- 
ing, as was his custom: For love ot the sovereign supreme they poured 
contempt . . (As we remarked, he had a strident voice.) It was then that 
the conspirators struck, en masse. Their first attack went awry because 
they mistook the master of the clerks for the emperor, perhaps because 
he bore a certain physical resemblance to him; or because he was wearing 
the same kind of headgear. For it was a cold winter night, so everybody 
was in heavy clothing and each man had covered his head with a closely 
fitting pointed felt hat. The master of the clerks averted the danger by 
removing the cap from his head and accomplished his survival with his 
baldness. When the emperor realised that he was being attacked, he went 
into the sanctuary and seized the thurible by its chains (some say it was 
the sacred cross) [23] with which to ward off the blows of his attackers. But 
the conspirators attacked all together, not one at a time. One struck him 
on the head, another in the belly, each wounding a different part of his 
body. He was able to resist for some time by parrying the sword thrusts 
with the sacred cross, but then he was set upon from all sides, like a wild 
beast. He was already beginning to flag from his wounds when, finally, 
seeing a giant of a man about to deal him a blow, he invoked the grace 
which inhabited the church with an oath and begged to be spared. This 
good fellow was one ot the Krambonitai family." ‘This is not the time for 
swearing oaths, but for killing,’ he declared — and dealt [Leo] a blow that 
cut the arm right through, not only severing it from the collar-bone but 
also sundering a branch of the cross. Someone also cut off his head, w hich 
was already damaged by wounds and hanging down. 

Such was the end of Leo’s life, in the month of December, about the 
tenth hour of the night, when he had reigned for seven years and five 
months. He was the most cruel man who ever lived, more sacrilegious 



Mena ion tor 25 December, the seventh ode at orthros* 

Great though the Krambonitai may have been at the time o f the assassination, this family does 
not appear to have known any further distinction. One Constantine Krambonites, spatharios 
and koubikou lariosj possessed the eleventh-century Cod, Vatic, gr* 1615: K Evangelatou-Notara, 
Semeidmata : a Greek codex as a source for the study of the economic and socia 1 life ot Byzantium 
from the ninth century to the year 1204 (in Greek, Athens 1982), 107—8. Several seals of members 
of this family have survived: M , Popov ic* Der lam ilien name Krambonites und ah n lie he For men 
aud Siegeln sowie in anderen Quellen 3 in Akten des 8 , Internationalen Symposion fur Byzantmische 
Sigilo graph i$che y ed, CL Ludwig, Berliner Byzantinische Studien j } Frankfurt— Berlin 2005, 


2 6 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

than all his predecessors, which rather detracts from both the care with 
which he conducted affairs of state and his excellence in war. It is sa Id th at 
a voice from heaven immediately resounded, announcing the good news 
ofh is demise to many people. Among those who heard it were some sail- 
ors who noted the time and the [hour of] the night. Later, when it was all 
over, [the announcement] was found to have been quite correct. 


Michael II the Stammerer [820—829] 

1. [24] After Leo was put to death, his assassins callously dragged his 
corpse through the Skyla gate and brought it into the Hippodrome, fear- 
ing nothing because the imperial palace was guarded at all points by their 
own forces. His wife was hauled off from the palace together with her 
four children, Symbatios (whose name was changed to Constantine after 
his proclamation as co-emperor), Basil, Gregory and Theodosios, lliey 
were thrust into a sldff and brought to the island of Prote ? where all four 
were castrated. Theodosios succumbed and went to share his own father’s 

As for Michael, he was now released from the prison of the papias , his 
feet still restrained by letters 4 because the key to the irons was kept in Leo’s 
bosom. It was thus that he now sat on the imperial throne, fetters and all; 
that is how he was when all those then holding palatine appointments 
acclaimed him and fell down before him. Then, towards midday, when the 
rumour had spread in all directions (by now his fetters had been struck off 
with a hammer),’ without even washing his hands, with no fear of God in 
his heart nor with any thought of what else ought to be done, off he went 
to the Great Church of the [holy] Wisdom, anxious to be crowned by the 
hand of the patriarch and to be publicly acclaimed. He trusted nobody 

Hi is gate provided communication between the trik linos of Justinian II in the Great Palace and 
the Hippodrome: R , Guilland, Etudes de topographic de Constantinople hyzantine (Amsterdam, 
1969), I, 518, 

1 Pseudo -Syme on Logothetes (619) says that all four of them became monks. Symbatios-Constantine 
{Pm bZ 3925 = PBE Constantine 29) is mentioned below: the miracle of his voice recovered a nd h is 
faith in the icons. Nothing more is heard of him* Basil (PmhZ 927 = PBE Basil 54) and Gregory 
(Pm hZ 2474 = PBE Gregory 70) became iconophiles like their elder brother and supported the 
elevation of Method ios to ihe patriarchate in 847: Genesios 4*18. 

'' One of the Princes* islands where there were several monasteries in which deposed emperors and 
their heirs were interned from rime to time: R* Jan in, Les eglises et les m onas teres des grands centres 
hyzantins (Paris, 1975), n, 70—2* 

4 A reference to Ps. 104:18? 

s According to Genesios (2.1), John Exaboulios revealed that the keys were still on Leo’s corpse; that 
is how they freed him from his chains. 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

other than his fellow conspirators who had carried out the assassination. 
At this point one might well wonder at these two emperors’ lack of judge- 
ment: the outgoing one who had no one to help him among such a large 
and varied rout of flatterers, all of whom took refuge in their holes like 
snakes; and the disorderly, shameless nature of the one after h im who went 
into church, not like some murderer or executioner wi th bl oodied hands, 
but rather as a victorious athlete and conqueror, [25] exulting over what 
had happened — he who had just shed the blood of a fellow countryman, 
not in any common place, but in Gods sanctuary where the Lord s blood 
is daily poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. 

2. This Michael was from a city named Amorion in upper Phrygia. 
In former times numerous Jews, Athinganoi and other impious people 
took up residence there. s Out of their contact and constant communica- 
tion with each other there emerged a sect of a novel kind, one with absurd 
doctrines. Following in the religious tradition of his family, Michael was 
a member of this sect. It permitted its adepts to partake of the godly and 
salvific [rite of] baptism but otherwise reverently observed the Mosaic 
law — except for circumcision. Michael had living with him a Jew (or 
maybe a Jewess) as his teacher and almost his governor, by whom he was 
inducted into the sect. This person not only gave him spiritual instruction, 
but also dictated how his household was to be run. Under this tutor he 
retained nothing that was pure but, rather, an agglomeration of disbeliefs; 
for he debased Christian doctrines, counterfeited Jewish beliefs and cor- 
rupted all the rest. From a religious point of view he was as diverse and 
varied as those African beasts which (they say), impelled by thirst, gather 
together at the rare watering holes and all mate with each other. Once he 
acceded to imperial power, he solemnly maintained and gloried in these 
doctrines, more so than in the diadem and the purple. As for literature and 
education (which could have modified his beliefs and taught him better 

Arab sources say his father s name was Leo, his grandfather George (A* A* Vasil iev, Byzance et les 
Arahes , I: La dynastie dAmorium, 820— 86 j (Brussels, 19 35); IT: Les relations politiques de Byzance et 
des arahes a Vepoque de la dynastie macedonienne , ed. M. Canard (GRHB, z.i, Brussels, 1968), i, 311, 
the translation of Tabari), 

There is no confirmation of this elsewhere. 

On these see J. Starr, 'An eastern Christian sect: the Athinganoi 5 , Harvard Ideological Review , 
29 (1936), 93-106; also L Rochow, 'Die Haresie des Athinganer in 8, und 9, Jahrhundert und 
die Frage ihres Fortlebens 5 , Studien zum 8 \ und p. Jahrhundert in Byzanz, ed* H* Kopstein and 
F. Winckelmann, 163 ffi Lastly: P* Speck, Die vemieintliche Haresie der Athinganoi 1 , JOB , 47 
(1997), 37—50. The Athinganoi were banished from Constantinople to Phrygia by Michae I I. The 
futu re Leo V {then strategos of the Anatolikon theme) carried out the operation: Theophanis 
Ch to n agraphia, ed* C. de Boor (Leipzig, 1883—5), 497* Phrygians were notoriously receptive to 
heresies ever since the arrival of the Montanists; see J. Gouillard, T^heresie dans l Empire byzan- 
tin desorigines au xiPsieclef TM y r (1965), 299—324. 

Michael II the Stammerer 


things), these he rejected and scorned, eminently favouring those skills in 
which he excelled. These consisted of such abilities as being able to predict 
which of a litter of newborn pigs would fare well and not fail to develop 
large bodies, which would fall prey to adversity; standing close to kick- 
ing horses; having the knack of restraining kicking asses from far away. 
He was an excellent judge of mules, able to tell which wo uld serve best as 
beasts of burden, which would be serviceable mounts and not be suddenly 
affrighted into throwing the rider and breaking his neck. He co uld even 
tell just by looking at horses which would have speed and stamina on the 
road, which would serve their riders valiantly in battle. As for sheep and 
cattle, [2 6] he could tell to which it had befallen by nature to produce fine 
young or an abundance of milk; he could discern by which mothers newly 
born animals had been born, and just from their appearance. Such then 
were the skills in which he gloried, not only in his youth but, it must be 
said, towards the end of his life too. 

3. By the time he achieved manhood, persistent poverty was his lot — 
but he left no stone unturned in his attempts to remedy this situation. One 
day when he was accompanying his commander, the latter noted that he 
stammered when reporting to him. One of the Athinganoi, a man with 
whom the commander was acquainted, disclosed to him that this Michael 
and another person would soon become famous and attain the imperial 
throne before long. This so impressed the commander that, thinking he 
was seeing the future in a mirror, he was loath to postpone an opportunity 
which might not easily be recaptured. So he immediately prepared a feast 
and invited the two men to dine, to the exclusion of all others, even of 
those who were of superior birth and rank. When the wine was flowing 
freely, he introduced his daughters and gave them to his guests, announ- 
cing that they were to be his sons-in-law. At first the two were quite over- 
come by the strange and puzzling nature of the proceedings, but they 
accepted the offer and gave their undertakings, thinking that such a thing 
had to be the work of God, not of man. That is how it was. 

Having accepted the pronouncement of the aforementioned adherent 
of the Athinganoi as a divine prediction, Michael took the second pro- 
nouncement of the monk of Philomehon (we have already spoken of 
this) as a prophecy too. Then he was more eager and determined than 

9 These harsh words are occasioned by Michael *s alleged iconoclasm, even though he never com- 
mitted himself to it. All the iconoclast emperors were accused of being under the influence of 
enemies of the faith, especially of Jews, 

' Bardanios Tourkos. 

]J Michaehs first wife, Thekla, was the daughter of Bardanios Tourkos: D. Turner, "Hie origins and 
accession of Leo V (813— 20) /OB, 40, (1990), 171—203, at 202. 

3 ° 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

ever to assassinate Leo. Having showed himself treacherous towards his 
former benefactor (the man named Bardanios), he would now do even 
worse to his second, meaning Leo, who was the godfather of his own son. 
Nevertheless, having brought about the atrocious murder of Leo, he did 
stipulate that a portion of Leo’s confiscated possessions be set aside for the 
maintenance of his children [27] and of their mother. Also, some of his 
own servants were seconded to wait upon them. Leo’s spouse he ordered 
to be conf ned in the monastery known as Despotai,' the male children 
on the island of Prote (as we said), where Theodosios died after they had 
all been castrated. 14 Constantine (whose name had been changed to Basil) 
was struck dumb after the castration. He prayed God to release his voice 
and prayed also to Gregory, famous among theologians, of whom there 
was an image there. The saint received his prayer and [his] sacred image 
appeared to Constantine proclaiming: ‘Take this candle and, at the dawn 
service this morning, read.’ Trusting in what was said, he entered [the 
church] and read [the prayer] ‘Yet again, O my Jesus’ with a clear, pure 
voice. Once he had regained his voice, he held the hereditary madness [ol 
iconoclasm] as anathema and converted to the right attitude towards the 
sacred icons. But that was later. 

4. Once Michael had arrogated the imperial power and was doing with 
it what he would, Nikephoros, the patriarch of eternal memory, sent him 
a letter imploring him to re-establish reverence for the sacred icons and to 
restore godliness. Michael replied that he was not come to do any mischief 
to the established religious practices nor in any way to attack or damage 
the received traditions: ‘Let each one do what seems right and desirable to 
him, free of punishment and knowing no affliction.’ But he, who was no 
true Christian at the beginning, certainly did not maintain this attitude 

JI Tlieophilos. 

13 This may have been at Constantinople, possibly to be identified with the monastery of the 
Despoinai founded, by Mary, the wife of Constantine VI: R. Jan in, La geographic ecclesiastique 
de r empire byzantin , I, Le siege de Constantinople et le patriarcat cecum enique* in, Les eglises et les 
monasteres (Paris, 1969), 88. 

14 Thus Leos children suffered the fate he had inflicted on the children of Michael L Leo’s eld- 
est son, Symhatios, had been associated with his hither under the name of Constantine (cf. Leo 
111 and Constantine V, father and son who co -ruled for some years)* The other sons were basil, 
Gregory and Theodosius (Turner, Teo 202), 

J * Gregory of Nazianzos, c. 329 to n 390, patriarch of Constantinople, 380—1, famed for his 
opposition to heresy expressed in letters and homilies. There are several vitae of this saint, one 
written in the seventh century by Gregory the Priest: ODIL 880—2. It is impossible to say in 
which church this icon of Gregory Tfieologos was located; Janin knows of no shrine dedicated 
in his name either on Prote or Halke (where Basil later stayed with his mother): Janin, Grands 
centres , II, 70—2 and 72—6. 

76 From the troparion sung at Vespers on 2 January, a poem by Andrew of Crete. 

Michael II the Stammerer 


to the end. As his hold on the empire became more firmly established, so 
did he (with his extremely crude and diabolically malignant nature) renew 
the war [28] against the Christians, his fellow countrymen. Now he would 
assau It the monks, afflicting them with a variety of terrors and devising 
one punishment after another; now he would throw others of the faith- 
ful into gaol or send them into exile. Methodios/ 7 who a little later was 
thought worthy of the patriarchal throne, and Euthymios, then bishop 
of Sardis, withstood him, refusing to renounce the practice of revering 
the sacred icons; these he expelled from the capital city for their pains. 
He imprisoned the sacred Methodios on the island of Akritas and put 
the blessed Euthymios to death by a merciless flogging with bulls sin- 
ews at the hand of 1 heophilos, his [Michael’s] own son, 19 In the same 
measure by which he thus afflicted Christ’s heritage, he also relieved the 
Jews of taxes and restraints; for these he loved and cherished most dearly 
above all other men. As a pattern and model for imitation in his own life 
he took the life of Kopronymos and made every effort to be like him. 
llius he attained the very acme and meridian of godlessness, now order- 
ing fasting on Saturdays, now sharpening his tongue against the sacred 
prophets; now denying the resurrection to come and decrying the good 
things promised in the next world. He would affirm that there was no 
such thing as the devil because there was no mention of him in the Mosaic 
[law]. He em braced porneia, stipulated that swearing should always be by 
God and, with his unbridled tongue, located Judas among the saved. He 
ridiculed the least of salvation-bringing Easter for being celebrated badly 
and out of season, portraying it as a pagan tradition. He was so alienated 
from our own sacred teaching that he would not even allow the young 


Hailing from Syracuse, Methodios studied at Constantinople, became a monk in one of the 
Bithynian monasteries and some time after 815 was sent to Rome to plead the cause of the deposed 
patriarch Nikephoros* He returned in 821 but was expelled by Michael II: ODB > 1355, PmbZ^jj = 
PBE M e t hodios 1 . 

Ibis island (today Tuzla) lies in the mouth of the Bosporos* Janin Grands centres , n, 53 — 4, says 
Methodios would have been kept in the monastery of St Andrew, 

Until his death in 831, Euthymios of Sardis was one of the most outstanding proponents of the 
icons. He became a bishop towards 790 but was sent into exile by Nikephoros for political reasons 
and kept there by Leo V for religious ones* Contrary to whar Skylirzes says, Michael II allowed 
him to return, Theoph ilos accused him of plotting and flogged him so hard he died, H is Life was 
composed by Methodios: ed* J, Gou illard, *L a vie dEu thyme de Sardes {oh 831)*, TM \ 10 (1987), 
1— 1 01; PmbZ 1838 = P££Euthymius 1, 

10 The emperor Constantine V Kopronymos (741—75), the notorious iconoclast who was neverthe- 
less victorious against both Arabs and Bulgars. His detractors claim that he defiled the font at his 

21 A difficult word to translate; it denotes every form of illicit sexual activity, in thought, word or 

32 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

to be educated, this so that nobody would be able to withstand and con- 
demn his mindlessness; nor any man whose eye had been sharpened and 
his speech quickened by education get the better of him. He was so slow in 
construing his letters and reading syllables that it was easier for one to read 
a [whole] book than lor this slow-minded fellow to decipher the letters of 
his own name. But I should leave aside this matter which has been suffi- 
ciently dealt with elsewhere and get on with the history, 

5. [29] A civil war broke out in the east at that time which filled the 
inhabited world with all kinds of evil; there was great loss of life and, con- 
sequently, depopulation. Thomas was the originator of this uprising, of 
whom they tell two different stories. One says he was the child of insig- 
nificant, poor parents of barbaric origin. After living in poverty for a long 
time, gaining the necessities of life by manual labour, even as a hired hand 
sometimes, he left his native land and came to this great city. Here he 
entered the service of a senator but became so undisciplined and arrogant 
that he even dared to insult his master’s marriage bed. Caught in the act, 
he CO uld not bear the reproach and he was terrified of the kind of punish- 
ments reserved for such crimes, so he fled to the Hagarenes. He gained 
their confidence by performing appropriate deeds and by confirming the 
deeds with constancy — for his stay with them lasted twenty-five years; 
also by forswearing the holy religion of the Christians and embracing that 
of the cursed Mohammed. He was designated chief of a war band and 
dispatched against the Christians, for he had undertaken to deliver the 
empire of the Romans into their hands. To ensure that bis difference of 
race and religion provide no obstacle to his reception by the Romans, he 
gave it out that he was Constantine [VI] the son of Eirene. (On account 
of his evilmindedness, his disgusting manners and his odious habits, she 
deprived her son of both his throne and of his eyes; subsequently he lost 
his life.) 

So huge was the undertaking and so powerful the aspirations which 
ruled [Thomas] that a colleague was necessary to cope with the situation. 
He could not possibly have dealt with it alone, having undertaken to 
wage war both by land and by sea. He adopted as his son a man the mere 

11 Constantine VI was loo young to reign at the death of his father (Leo IV ihe Khazar), hence he 
had to endure the regency of his mother, Eirene, who, moreover, imposed an odious marriage on 
him. He put away his wife in favour of a relative of Theodore the Stood ite, th us provoking the 
so-called moechian scandal. When he finally achieved the throne, his foreign policy was such a 
fail ure and his relations with his supporters so inept that his mother was able to regain power, 
whereupon she blinded her son, thus provoking his death. Skylitzes takes a favourable view of 
Eirene because she permitted the first restoration of the icons. W Treadgold, The Byzantine 
revival 782—842 (Stanford, CA, 1988}, 96—110. 

Michael II the Stammerer 


physical appearance [30] of whom declared the vacuity of his soul. He 
committed a sufficient force to this man (whom he renamed Konstantios) 
and despatched him to one region with orders to devastate Roman 
territory. As for himself, he went off to a another region, wasting and 
ravaging everything in his path. Leo [V] the Armenian (who was holding 
the reins of the empire at that time) sent out an inadequate force against 
him which suffered a total defeat, thus rendering Thomas yet more bold 
and impetuous. Such is the first story of this uprising and it is widely 
believed. 4 

According to the second story, Hiomas was the man who was formerly 
with Bardanios and concerning whom that monk uttered his prediction 
at Philomelion, He had already been put in command of the regiment of 
the foederati by the emperor Leo when he learnt that Leo had been assas- 
sinated by Michael. So, under pretence of avenging his benefactor but also 
to serve his own interests (for he and Michael had been rivals since their 
youth) he raised a hand against [the emperor], the fear inspired by what the 
monk had prophesied of him at Philomelion notwithstanding. His revolt 
began in the Anatolikon theme where he was stationed; 15 there he assem- 
bled a force by no means weak and small but weighty and courageous. 
Every man capable of bearing arms of any kind he obliged to follow him, 
some by force, others for the sake of their friendship towards him; some 
by the prospect of the booty they might seize, others because of the hatred 
they had for Michael. He was indeed so widely hated tor being so crude, 
for adhering to the sect of the Athinganoi, for his stammering and on 
account o fh is baseness and indolence, that everybody agreed to fight with 

This first adoptive son may have he cn called Konstantios (Genesios 2.4), recalling Constantine 
the Great whose son and successor was Konstantios. It is also possible that Thomas did not claim 
to be Constantine VI (he was too well known to the eastern armies) hut that he was defending 
the legal rights of that prince; a difficult task since everybody knew he had been blinded, which 
would have extinguished any rights to the throne. 

14 The revolt of Thomas the Slav ( PmbZ 8459 = PMB: Thomas 7) has been studied in depth by Paul 
Lemerle, ‘Thomas le Slave’, TM, I (1965), 255—97, whose conclusions are followed in these notes* 
The first tradition reported by Skylitzes is inconsistent; it aims to exonerate Michael II of the 
first defeats by attributing them to the armies of Leo V. It is unlikely that Thomas would have 
rebelled against Leo, whose faithful companion he was, rather than against Michael who was his 
adversary. This tradition depends upon an official version of the events of ’which the oldest known 
account is a letter sent to Louis the Pious by Theophilos in 824* It is possible, however, that the 
two traditions are less contradictory than Lemerle thought; see H. Kop stein, c Zur Erhebung des 
Thomas*, Berliner byzantinischen Arbeiten 7 51 (1983), 61—87. Recently it has been argued that the 
revolt of Thomas began under Leo V, as George the Monk and the Vita of Euthymios of Sardis 
testify, which w^ould indicate rhat Skylitzes* first version of the story may he an old one, but not 
necessarily that it is correct: D. Afinogenov, ‘The date of Georgias Monachos reconsidered’, BZ y 
92 (1999), 446-7- 

25 He was still tourmarch of the foederati, a unit pertaining to the A 11 a to llko n theme. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

the upstart. 26 But as for Thomas himself, even though he was disabled in 
one foot and the descendant of barbarians, he was of venerable appear- 
ance with his grey locks and he spoke well, in a civilised manner. These 
are all things which the soldier admires and, in addition to these, he was 
second to none in the nobility of his physical appearance. 

This Thomas now gained control of the entire east and brought the 
collectors of the public taxes under his thumb. By his magnanimity 
and outstanding liberality he went from small to great, from weakness 
to strength. There were those whom he brought over by persuasion and 
friendship, the sort of people who were enamoured of coups d’etat [31] and 
acquiring wea 1 th. Th ere were others whose obedience he gained by coer- 
cion and violence, those who held civil disturbance in horror. Then, when 
the civil war broke out, it was like the cataracts of a river — not of water, 
but of blood — which inundated the earth. Asia in its entirety was overrun 
and laid waste, suffering a fate worse than death. Some of the cities there 
submitted to Hiomas out of fear; some kept faith with the emperor until 
they were sacked and their citizens led into captivity. 4 he whole of Asia fell 
to the rebel, except for the Opsikion theme, whose governor, Katakylas, 11 
remained faithful to the emperor to the end, and for the Armeniakon 
theme where Olbianos was governor, who [also] remained faithful to the 
emperor. As a reward, the emperor settled upon them the income accru- 
ing to the imperial treasury from the public tax which is usually ca lied the 
hearth tax.” 

6. The Hagarenes rejoiced and were glad at the news of the civil war, 
seizing the opportunity of freely invading every island and territory.* 4 








As Michael was a person ol no distinction, his hold on the throne was not very secure. 

This is an allusion to his Slavic origins; he may well have descended from a family established 
in Asia Minor on one of the many occasions when populations were transferred there over the 
course ol the two preceding centuries. 

He and Michael won Id both have been about fifty years old by now. 

His appropriation of the fiscal resources of the east was an important factor in the measure of success 
his revolt achieved: J.-C. Cheynet, Pouvoir et contestations a Byzance ($6j—t2To) (Paris, 1990), 163— 5. 
This may be an exaggeration for such was the strength of Thomas that very few actions were 
fought in Asia Minor* 

I he patrician Katakylas {PmhZ 3639 = PBE Katakylas t), a cousin of Michael H (Genesios 2.3), 
had just replaced Gregory Pterotos, a nephew of Leo V, as strategos. 

The antecedents of this man are unknown [PmbZ 5646 = PBE Olbianos 3)* There is a seal {. DOSeals 
1-43*31) which suggests that he may have been strategos of Macedonia* One ol his ancestors may 
be known by a lead seal: G. Zacos and A* Veglery, Byzantine lead seals , I (Basle, 1972)5 no* 3041* 
Kap n i ko n which, as the name suggests, was based on the hearth: N. Oikonomides, Fiscalite et 
exemption fiscale a Byzance , IXe—XIe siecles (Athens, 1996), 30-1. 

The caliph AbMaTnoun, son ol Harun al-Raschid, was now installed at Baghdad, having himseli 
come to power amid civil wars launched against him by his brother* Victim of several dissident 
movements the most important of which was led by Babek, he was disposed to negotiate w ith the 

Michael II the Stammerer 


Thomas began to fear that his followers might abandon him and go back 
home for fear of the onslaught of the Hagarenes for, as we said, they seized 
everything they could get their hands on and took captive every one they 
came across. He realised that he would have to withstand their attack by 
making a personal appearance. He would dismay them by the size of his 
superior forces and craftily bring them to sue for peace. And that is what 
happened. While the Saracens were ravaging the east, he frightened them 
by a sudden appearance. Talks ensued at which he promised to deliver the 
Roman lands into their hands and to place these under their authority. J 
Once relieved of fear of [the Hagarenes] he proclaimed himself emperor, 
placed a diadem on his head and had himself recognised as sovereign at 
Antioch by Job who was at that time [chief] pastor of the church there. 
He assembled a great company of men [32] and received others from the 
Hagarenes, not only from our neighbouring peoples, but from those afar 
off: Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Assyrians, Armenians, Chaldeans, 
Iberians, Zechs and KabirsT When he had strengthened and defended 
himself with all these troops, he thought it best to take a colleague and 
co-ruler, someone whose name he would change and whom he would 
adopt as his son. ' 

7. He then set out, ravaging and laying waste all of Anatolia; when the 
emperor heard of this he made preparations to resist the upstart. He sent 
an army and a commander against him, neither of them fit for battle. 
Thomas descended on the army in force, destroyed it, killing one half of it 




Romans, Traditionally the loss of Crete has been connected with the revolt of Thomas, it being 
alleged that both Thomas and the emperor had withdrawn the naval forces protecting the Aegean 
Sea* The truth of the matter is that the conquest of the island happened some years after the end 

0 f Th omas’ revolt: D. Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete: from the fifth century to the Venetian conquest 
(Athens, 1988)* 33—40, 

Far from delivering the empire into the hands of the Saracens, Thomas maintained the peace by a 
demonstration of strength* 

Th omas was unwilling to wait until he had. conquered Constantinople to receive religious sanc- 
tion, Job ( PmhZ 3397 = PBE Job l), the Melkite patriarch of Antioch (before 821-43), crowned 
him in his see-city* As this was under Arab domination, it is possible that the caliph recognised 
Thomas as emperor* 

This long list of foreigners, all of them from the east, serving in Thomas 5 army should not lead us 
astray. The greater part of his army consisted of soldiers from Asia Minor. The other chroniclers 
give different lists, which suggests that not all the people listed supplied troops to the rebel* The 
Persians lived in Iran, the Assyrians in upper Mesopotamia; the Chaldees in Pontos, around 
Trebizond (the rheme of Chaldia)* The Kabirs were, generally speaking, the inhabitants of 
Kabeira, the ancient name o f N eo caesarea in Pontos. '\he lb erians were Georgians living along 
the border with the empire; the Zechs lived on the north shore of the Black Sea between the 
Caucasus and the Straits of Kerteh* Genesios (2*2) adds to this list Slavs, Huns, Vandals, Getes, 
M anicnees, Lazes and Alans. 

1 hi s refers to Konstantios. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

and putting the other half to flight. Being now free to move as he wished, 
he sought to strengthen his position by equipping warships and other ves- 
sels to carry supplies and horses. He made himself master of the imperial 
navy and mustered the entire fleet off Lesbos. 40 He himself marched off 
to Abydos 41 at the head of eighty thousand men, 42 intending to cross [the 
Hellespont] there. He overran all the places on th e way there and reduced 
them to ashes, not just humble and defenceless ones, but even the most 
important [ones], very difficult to take. 

There was one burgh that remained faithful to the emperor, against 
which he sent his own [adoptive] son. Under the impression that there were 
no forces opposed to them in the place, [the young man] rashly led a disor- 
ganised cavalry attack on it — and fell into an ambush set by Olbianos who 
cut off his head as a lesson to him not to be rash. 13 He sent that wretch’s 
head to the emperor who, in turn, sent it to Thomas, the man’s father, as 
he advanced in insolence and boasting all the way. [ lhomas] received it 
but made no change in his plans; he passed through Horace as far as the 
township they call Horkosion 44 where he crossed [the straits] at the new 
moon. This had already been a matter of concern for Michael before it 
happened, for he anticipated such a crossing. [33] He had personally con- 
firmed the loyalty of the towns, reinforced their garrisons and fortified the 
weaker places. But none of this was to any avail for, as soon as he returned 
to the capital and Thomas crossed over, they all broke faith with him and 
rallied to the apostate, anxious to campaign against the capital w ithh im. 

8. The emperor concentrated what troops he could and raised an army 
which had the appearance of being sufficient for the task. He appointed 
the aforementioned Katakylas and Olbianos to be its commanders and 
sent them into action against the upstart. He also gave his attention to 
the navy, so far as possible. But sweeping down like a spring flood from 
the high mountains, the upstart came and scattered the [imperial] forces 
by land and by sea, putting such fear into the emperor that he stretched 

^ A reference perhaps to a defeat suffered by Olbianos who, nevertheless, preserved most of his 

4 " But Michael still controlled a portion of the imperial fleet that was based on Constantinople* 
Lesbos, the largest of the Aegean islands, was an important naval base and the one nearest to the 

4L Abydos was a fortress controlling the Dardanelles, hence the crossing from Asia to Europe. It was 
the residence of a count, a com m erctariu s and of a paraphylax . 

4? I his number must not be taken too seriously* It merely indicates that Thomas 1 army seemed very 
large to his contemporaries and was more numerous than the emperor ? s force, 

43 The young man had remained in Asia to protect Thomas* rear; that is how he came to be surprised 
by the strategos of the Armeniakon theme. 

44 Probably Horkos, a village between Par ion and Lampsaka* 

Michael II the Stammerer 


an iron chain from the Acropolis to the opposite township, rendering the 
inner sea inaccessible. 4 

There was a former commander [named Gregory] 4 ^ living in exile on 
Skyros, a nephew of the emperor Leo [V]. After [Leo’s] assassination, he 
frequently spoke out boldly and accused Michael of murder to his face; 
that is why he had been sent into exile. Thomas had taken him as a com- 
panion and set him in command of a land force of about ten thousand 
men. He prepared the fleet for action and set another person over that; 
then he dispatched these two forces as vanguard against the capital under 
the impression that it would be advantageous to launch the attack both 
by land and by sea. So it was; the naval and land forces appeared together 
in the gulf before Blachernae, 47 for the iron chain, stretched [34] out the 
way I said, was totally incapable of withstanding [them]; a general assault 
on the walls ensued. Thomas arrived soon after and the siege was vigor- 
ously pursued on all sides; but nothing worthy of note was accomplished 
because those within made a spirited defence and repulsed the siege 
engines. Thomas thought that he had only to appear before the capital and 
the citizens would open wide the gates to him out of hatred for Michael. 
That is why he sent Gregory ahead (as we said), himself following with 
all his fo rces and with Anastasios, 4 ® his adoptive son, who had recently 
abandoned the monastic life and returned to lay status. When none of his 
hopes was fulfilled, rather was he reviled and derided by the besieged, he 
set up a fortified encampment in Paulinos’ quarter 49 — where the church 
of the wonder-working Anargyroi stands. Troops were sent out as far as the 
Euxine Bridge and the so-called Hieron to sound out whether the town- 
ships would join him and to ensure there was no enemy at his back. 

Michael wanted to deny Thomas access to the Golden Horn where his ships could have found 
shelter and from which he cou id h ave launched an attack against the least well defended part of 
the city. 

46 Su reamed Pterotos according to Theophanes Continuatus , ed. L Bekker (Bonn, 18^8), 57: PmbZ 
2477 = PBE Gregorios 71. 

47 7 h us Thomas' fleet sailed into the Golden Horn and made contact with his land forces near the 

port of Blachernae, to the north-west of the capital, 

48 Anastasios {PmbZ 317 = PBE Anastasios 23) is unanimously discredited by the Byzantine 
chroniclers. The choice of this man by Thomas and the missions which were assigned to him sug- 
gest that he had previous military experience* 

40 Ta Paulinou , also known as Kosmidion , just outside the walls on the Golden Horn, a short dis- 
tance beyond Blachernae. Here was located a famous sanctuary dedicated to saints Kosmas and 
Damian, the healing saints who ‘take no silver' (, an-argyroi ): R, Jan in, Constantinople byzantine 
(AOC\ 4 A, Paris, 1964), 461—2. On the location of the church: C. Mango, ‘On the cult of the 
saints Cosmas and Damian at Constantinople 1 , Thymiama ste mneme tes Laskarinas Mpoura 
{Athens, 1994), 189-92* 

50 The fortress of Hieron at the entry into the Bosporus Irom the Black Sea served the same purpose 
as Abydos on the Hellespont/Dardanelles* It was the duty of the count of the Hieron to control 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

He took these precautions and gave himself a few days for preparations 
then, from a high place, he observed that Michael had set up his war ban- 
ner on the roof of the church of the Mother-of-God at Blachernae and 
that, from that location, he was issuing orders and taking command of his 
forces against the enemy. Meanwhile Tneophilos, his son, together with 
the patriarch and his retinue, was processing around the entire ramparts 
of the city carrying the life-giving Wood of the Cross together with the 
raiment of the all-pure Mother-of- God. Now Tli omas began to despair 
of the undertaking and to be of two minds. Not knowing what on ear th 
to do but trusting in his superior manpower, he thought that all would 
be decided by a battle. Accordingly, next day at first light he signalled for 
the onslaught to begin and led out his men. He committed the attack 
on the land walls to his son while he himself, with the greater forces, 
powerful siege-engines and machines, assaulted the towers of Blachernae. 
Ladders as long as the walls were high were brought up against them; in 
some place there was an attack by testudo> in others by battering ram. 
Using archery and catapults, he thought that a show of such force would 
frighten the citizens and deliver the city into his hands. He blockaded the 
rest [35] of the wall with his naval force, terrifying [the citizens] with fire 
and arrows. 

But great though this show of strength was, it accomplished nothing 
for him that might be advantageous. A contrary wind suddenly blew up 
and dispersed the fleet, causing the ships to scatter in all directions, for the 
storm was of considerable violence. On 1 and the citizens fought bravely and 
disabled his siege-engines. Short of all supplies, he withdrew. The besieged 
citizens took new heart and pursued the supporters of the apostate more 
boldly than ever. Some of those w ithin even opened the apertures in the 
city gates, sallied forth and engaged the enemy. On account of the sever- 
ity of the winter in Thrace, the apostate decided to go into winter quarters 
elsewhere; he left with his host for milder climes. 

9. Having done this, once spring began to shine, he decided to attack 
the city of Constantine again by land and sea. But he found that Michael, 
unlike the first time, had now assembled a businesslike army and had put 

the passage ol ships and to levy the customs duty (see DOSeals , 3,81 tor earlier relerences a nd 
some sea Is of th ese counts). 

** 'llie relic of the True Cross came to Constantinople in the time of Herakleios and was conserved 
in the palace church of the Lighthouse (iou Pharou ), The vestment of the Iheotokos could 
have been either her skepe (shawl) kept at Blachernae or her zone (girdle) Irom Chalkoprateia. 
Processions of this ki nd are well attested from the time of the first siege (by the Avars) in 626 to 
the Russian onslaught in 860, 

Michael II the Stammerer 


to sea another fleet. 52 Thomas gathered his strength and attacked the same 
part [of the fortifications] as before, the gulf at Blachernae. Once the sig- 
nal to attack was given, he brought up his siege-engines and attempted 
to breach the walls. Meanwhile Michael engaged some of the apostate’s 
comrades in discussion; he promised them an amnesty for their offences 
and plenty of fine rewards if they would change sides and stop staining 
their hands with the blood of their fellow countrymen. Nothing was 
accomplished; rather the opposite, for he rendered those to whom he 
addressed his offer even more bold, while freeing them of the fear which 
had paralysed them and oi confirming their loyalty to the apostate. So 
he abandoned that project; he spoke to his companions at length, urging 
them to be good men and true and not to throw away their liberty on an 
execrable upstart. Then [his men] suddenly and unexpectedly rushed out 
from several posterns and attacked the enemy. By the element of surprise 
[the emperor] was able to throw his fear-stricken foes into disarray (many 
of whom he slaughtered), and to gain a significant [3 6] victory. The fleet 
of the apostate also fared badly. Just as the imperial ships put to sea and 
were about to engage it, the enemy fleet was assailed by panic and dis- 
order. The [enemy ships] turned tail and were driven aground. Some of the 
sailors threw in th eir lot with the emperor while others took refuge in the 
camp of their land army. Thus was the upstart’s navy effortlessly brou ght 
to naught. 

10. It was th en that Gregory, nephew of the emperor Leo, realised that 
Thomas was not a very dangerous adversary and suspected that he would 
become even less dangerous with the passage of time. He made con- 
tact with the emperor through a monk of Stoudios’ monastery and con- 
ceived the idea of seceding, together with a portion of the company he 
commanded, 5 * and of attacking the upstart from the rear. This was partly 
to strike fear in Th omas, partly to reconcile himself with the emperor and 
partly to ensure the safety of his wife and children; for they had been in 
custody since he threw in his lot with Thomas. But before the emperor 
heard of this, Thomas, fearing that Gregory might suddenly increase 
in importance and wishing to inspire his own men with fear, without 
moving his encampment before the city (for fear of being pursued from 
the rear) took just so many experienced soldiers as he needed to engage 

52 Constantinople was not blockaded during the winter; hence Michael had been a hie to receive 
reinforcements from the Asiatic themes whi ch remain ed faithful to him; also to raise some mer- 
cenary forces paid by the treasury. 

51 Defections usually followed when a rebel was checked in his advance, th is being the most propi- 
tious moment at which to go over to the emperor: C hey net, Pouvoir , 169—73. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Gregory and went out to meet him. Gregory was overthrown in battle, 
taken in flight and executed. [Thomas] returned in haste to his forces 
besieging the city and sent out letters everywhere boasting that he had 
won a victory, which was not the case. He ordered the fleet that he was 
keeping in the Helladikon theme s4 to approach w ith all h aste, once again 
to contend tor mastery ot the sea. M akingadi rect voyage, the fleet came 
quickly and anchored off a place called Berydes, three hundred and fifty 
warships and supply vessels in all. When the commanders of the imperial 
fleet learned of their arrival, they attacked by night while the enemy ships 
were riding at anchor. [37] So sudden was the attack that they were a ble 
to capture several panic-stricken vessels, crews and all, and to burn other 
ships with Greek fire. A few escaped from the disaster altogether and has- 
tened to gain the gulf at Blachernae where they could join the land army, 
which they succeeded in doing. 

11. Such was the state of affairs at sea. On land it was continuous skir- 
mishing; first Michael then Iheophilos his son would sally forth against 
the rebels, together with Olbianos and Katakylas. Sometimes the emperor’s 
men prevailed, sometimes [Thomas] the apostates. But there was no sus- 
tained and significant battle waged in a brave and orderly way because 
the imperial forces were inferior in numbers a nd unable to withstand the 
strength of the upstart. 

12. Meanwhile, the wo rd h aving gone out through the whole world 
that the Roman emperor lay besieged and co nfined within his own walls, 
Mortagon, king 56 of the Bulgars, sent him a secret message announcing 
th at he wo uld send help of his own free will and conclude a treaty with 
him. Either because he really did have pity on his fellow country men or 
because he resented the expense (he was th e most parsimonious emperor 
there ever was), Michael thanked the Bulgar for his intentions but refused 
the proferred aid. Mortagon, however, delighted in war and was very fond 
of acquiring the spoils of it. Seeking to revitalise and strengthen the thirty- 
year treaty made with Leo [V], 57 the previous emperor, he raised an army 





One ot the o Iciest E uropean themes, created before 695: N. Qikonomides, Les listes de preseance 
byzantines des IXe et Xe sieclesi introduction f text t French translation and commentary (Le monde 
byzantin, Paris, T972), 351. 

Location uncertain, 

Basileus . Omurtag, son ol Krum, had been Khan of the Bulgars since 815: Treadgold, Byzantine 
revival \ 214-15, 

It was VI lchael who summoned the Bulgar to his aid* no doubt promising renewal of the treaty of 
8t6 (a thirty-year treaty hut which had to be confirmed every ten years), possibly suggesring there 
was booty to be had in Thrace. This account of the matter (Skylitzes is here following Theophanes 
C&ntinuatus and /or Genesios) is somewhat unlikely. George the Monk (797) says — which is more 
easily believed — that Michael asked the Bulgar for help (Lemerle, ‘Thomas le slaved 279—80). 

Michael II the Stammerer 


against the upstart and, once he was inside the Roman border, encamped 
near the place called KedouktosT 

The matter became known and the apostate could not be unaware of 
it. He was shaken without a doubt and deeply moved in his inner being, 
but when he had regained his composure he armed his own forces. [38] 
Tt seemed to him that if he divided his forces he would be greatly weak- 
ened and easily overcome (for it needs no small force to besiege the capital; 
rather, a numerous and significant army). The emperor had now assem- 
bled a formidable host, well able to withstand the enemy face to face. No 
small company would have sufficed to withstand the army of the Bulgars; 
it required a large and above average army to succeed. Thomas now with- 
drew from the city to avoid rendering himself easy to defeat by dividing 
his forces. Under the impression that he was a worthy opponent for the 
Bulgar, he drew up his forces in battle order at the place just mentioned. 
An engagement ensued in which the upstart was worsted and many of 
his people slain . 59 The survivors saved their lives by taking to their heels 
and reassembled in an inaccessible location where they waited to see what 
would happen. The Bulgar chieftain took the prisoners of war and the 
great amount of booty he had captured and returned to his own land, 
exulting in and boasting of his victory. The fleet [of Thomas] which was 
still left blockading the city went over to the emperor in its entirety when 
news of the upstarts reverse arrived. The apostate was brought to such a 
pitch of madness by the demons which (it seemed) were fighting on his 
side that he continued to dream of seizing the imperial throne. Harassed 
on all sides and reduced to a mere shadow of his former strength, he still 
carried on the siege. When he finally came to the conclusion that this 
was wasted effort, off he went with his entire army to the plain known as 
Diabasis , 6 ' 1 some furlongs from the city, a place rich in pasture and flowing 
streams, lliere he set up camp from which he made forays to pillage the 
splendour of the city’s suburbs. But the people of the city saw no more of 
him, unlike the way it was before. 

When Michael perceived this, he assem bled a considerable force, 
appointing Katakylas and Olbianos to command it. Taking the two corps 
of palace guards, the Scholae and the Hetairiae, under his own command, 

5S Near Herakleia in Thrace; th e name is derived from the Latin aquaeductus . 

59 November Si 2* This information can hardly be correct; Thomas, even if victorious, must at least 
not have suite red too severe losses or how could he have th ou ght oF continuing the siege? On the 
other hand, the fact that he did not blockade the city right away suggests that he had suffered 
more than a minor reverse. 

60 A plain 50 km from the city, irom which he ecu id easily pillage the estates ( proasteia ) ol the rich 
citizens of Constantinople. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

he marched out against the upstart, wishing to have the matter decided 
by a formal battle. The upstart awaited the emperor in a firmly established 
position, intending to get the better of his adversaries by a feint, once battle 
was joined. He ordered his men [39] to turn and run away when the adver- 
sary charged; but when [Michael’s men] came in pursuit, his own were 
suddenly to turn on them and rout them by this unexpected manoeuvre. 
Such were his orders, but it was not to turn out as he intended. The soldiers 
of his company had been deprived of their wives and children for a long 
time on his account. They had stained their hands with the blood of their 
fellow countrymen and they were distressed by how long it had gone on. 
For they had now spent three years in serving the ambition and aspirations 
of one man — with nothing to show for it. Thus his orders were an oppor- 
tunity not to be missed for these men. When the trumpet signalled £ to 
arms’ and the ranks engaged in hand-to-hand combat, these made no pre- 
tence of running away (as they were ordered to do) but simply broke ranks 
in a disorderly, undisciplined manner and scattered in all directions. At 
first a few, then many more of them went over to the emperor. Thomas 
found refuge with a few others of his men in Adrianople. His illegitimate 
and bastard son, Anastasios, fled to the fortified town of Bizyes and occu- 
pied it/’-' 

13. Following on their heels, the emperor decided first to besiege 
Th omas, so he set up a blockade around him. He was, however, in no haste 
to reduce him with siege engines and war machines, partly to spare his fel- 
low countrymen a civil war, partly because of the Scyths living around 
Adrianople: he did not want them to acquire the ability to reduce cities by 
th e use of machines. So he sought to reduce the adversary by famine and 
by depriving him of the necessities of life. Thus he invested Adrianople, 
encompassing it with ditch and stockade. Thomas expelled all the people 
who were unfit for service and every useless animal from the city. Then, 
when the famine became intense and there was no hope of relief, some of 
his company secretly let themselves out through the apertures in the gates 
while [40] others slid down from the walls by night. These then went and 
surrendered themselves to the emperor while others fled to the apostate’s 
bastard son, Anastasios, in the town of Bizyes. The besieged were now 
seriously in need of the necessities of life and were reduced to eating some 

41 Th is was a traditional subterfuge of nomadic peoples, often practised to their own cost by the 

■ The headquarters of Thomas were at Arkatlioupolis. 

6 * A Thracian stronghold north of the Adrianople-Constantinople road. Anastasios is said to be his 
adoptive son in c, 5, above. 

Michael II the Stammerer 


strange dishes, forced by necessiry even into partaking of boiled hides 
and boot-soles, with which they were perforce nourished. They entered 
into secret negotiations with Michael, asking pardon for their misdeeds — 
which they received. Then they laid han dls on Th omas and brought him 
bound before his enemy. 04 First performing a deed which was customary 
for the emperors of old time but which is no longer in use, Ss [Michael] 
placed his foot on [the apostate’s] neck as he lay sprawled on the ground. 

I lien he cut off his hands and feet, set him on an ass and made a spectacle 
of him around the camp — him crying out nothing other but: ‘Be merciful 
to me, you who are truly the emperor!’ 

Then the emperor asked [ lhomas] whether any of his [the emperor’s] 
own friends might be supporters of Thomas, at which the apostate might 
have named several of them, had not the patrician John Hexaboulios 
objected: ‘My Lord emperor, it is improper and quite insane to believe 
one’s enemies [testifying] against one’s friends.’ With this protest he deliv- 
ered some unfortunate citizens and friends from the punishment which 
would otherwise have been unleashed against them. 

In his agony, the apostate died a slow death, yielding up his soul in 
mid October. ’ 7 At first he had seemed to be a bold fellow, capable of great 
things: one who achieved what he set out to accomplish. But the fur- 
ther he went, it became clear that there was much less to him than he 
himself believed, an d th an what others expected of him. The men in the 
fortress of Bizyes quickly changed their minds when they became aware 
of the fate which awaited them. For once they heard of the fate which had 
befallen Thomas, fearing a similar one for themselves, they laid hands on 
Anastasios, bound him hand and foot and brought him to the emperor. 
This one suffered more or less as his fath er had suffered an d died a violent 
death. Even after the upstarts had been executed, Panion and Herakleia, 
coastal cities of Thrace, still persisted in maintaining the rebellion out of 
hatred [41] of Michael and for his refusal to restore the sacred icons. Panion 
was reduced after an earthquake had thrown down its fortifications while 
Herakleia was taken by a naval assault. 

64 Tli is in October 823, 

This procedure marking the triumph of an emperor was known as calcatio (the double amputa- 
tion was superfluous), Ir did not on this occasion take place at Constantinople bur before the 
rebel army. 

66 The number of Michaels sometime adversaries was so great that he was obliged to grant a general 

67 Genes ios (2,8) and George the Monk (788) say he was impaled at the end. 

H era kleia* a nc ie n t Pe t int h os, fell without loss of blood. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

14. Such was the end of the revolt of Thomas. The emperor returned 
from the Thracian cities swathed in triumph and chose to take no further 
action against those who had risen with Thomas, now his prisoners of war, 
than to parade them mounted on asses when the Hippodrome was full 
and to send them into exile. 

15. The fortified towns of Kabala and Saniana 0 were still hotbeds of 
insurrection, the one held by Choireas, the other by Gazarenos. 70 From 
these towns they set out to rob and plunder. Before they had yet received 
the imperial letter 71 granting them amnesty and promotion (in fact the 
emperor made each of them magister), they went out as usual to forage. 
But on their return, they found the gates of the fortresses closed in their 
faces, the men within having been bribed to shut them out. 72 They fled 
to Syria but the governors of the frontier regions arrested and impaled 
them . 

16. T hat is how the uprising was completely extinguished and stamped 
out; but the sequence of disasters was not going to end there. For after the 
two land masses (I mean Asia and Europe, like the head and tail of the 
same body) underwent the wrath of the Lord (even though not conscious 
of it), afflicted by killings, burnings, earthquake, brigandage, civil war, 
hopeless dislocation of cities, portents in the sky, portents in the air; then 
it was the wretched islands, located as it were in the middle, that disasters 
struck in order to afflict the entire body. But there was no correcting those 
who refused to revere [42] the likeness of the God-man. 74 

The revolt of Thomas had scarcely begun but word of it was going 
out into all lands. The Hagarenes inhabiting the western gulf of Iberia 
facing onto the [Atlantic] ocean, the o nes called Spaniards, had become 
too numerous. They realised that the land they occupied was poor stuff, 
incapable of sustaining them. So they went to Abu Hafs, their leader 


7 1 


Kabal a was a fortified town ot Lykaonia, to the north of Iconium, while Saniana in Galatia was 
on th e western bank of the Halys, not far from Ancyra ( 772 ), 4:182—3 and 222). 

Gazarenos ( PmhZ 1941 = PBE Gazarenos i)> originally from Koloneia {Theophanes Continuatus , 
ed, Bekker* 71), and Choireas were both commanders under Thomas, 

The Greek expression basilike syllahe was not used in the imperial chancellery. It is not found in 
the i ndex of F. D o 1 ge r a n d | . K a ra y a n n op o u 1 o s, Byza n ti n isch e Urk u nden l eh re: Erste A hsch n i tt di e 
Kaiserkunden (Munich, 1968). Theophanes Continuatus^ ed* Bekker, 72* speaks of a chrysobul, the 
normal document for the conferring of such high dignities. 

At S aniana it was the oikonomos of a church who, bribed with a promise ot the metropolitan see 
of N eocaesareaj shut the gates: theophanes Continuatus , ed. Bek ken 72, 

A very strict watch was kept on the Arab— Byzantine border by persons whose task it was to report 
enemy incursions: G. Dagron and H. Mihaescu, Le traite sur la guerilla de Tempereur Nicephore 
Phocas (Paris, 1986), 228-9, 

Ten theanthropon morph en, i,e. the icon of Jesus, The implication is that all the foregoing woes 

were incurred by the iconoclasts. 

Michael II the Stammerer 


(called amermoumne 1% in the language of those parts) and asked him if he 
could settle them elsewhere and give them a change of land, for they were 
oppressed by their numbers and bereft of the necessities of life. He gave 
their request a ready welcome; warships were immediately prepared and 
manned by a force recruited from among those people. The purpose o f the 
exercise was kept secret while this fleet was permitted to ravage the eastern 
isles which are ours. Thus he was able to assuage the hunger of his subjects 
by filling them with others’ bread, while spying out whether there was one 
of the islands suitable for them to colonise. 76 He sailed out in springtime 
and attacked several islands without finding anybody to oppose him. The 
islands were all destitute of help as the fleet which usually defended them 
was away fighting with Thomas. Thus he was able to reap much gain from 
every island he attacked. One day he came to Crete, overran it and took as 
many prisoners as possible. When he perceived the excellence and pleasant 
nature of that island, this is what he said to his subjects: ‘Behold, a land 
flowing with milk and honey.’ That was all he said at that time but, having 
charged his fleet with all manner of good things, he thought about it on 
the way home. When winter was over and spring began to shine, 77 he filled 
forty ships with fighting men then, chancing on a favourable wind, set sail 
for Crete, more or less bypassing the other isles. When he got to Crete he 
anchored off the promontory called Charax. As there was [43] no military 
resistance, neither to his arrival nor to his disembarkation, he set up a for- 
tified encampment and sent out capable men to forage, himself remaining 
with the others. Then a wind began to get up, and when the foragers were 
more than ten or fifteen furlongs away he put fire to the ships and burnt 
them all; not one of them did he save. Hie army returned at once, terrified 
and amazed by the unexpected nature of this occurrence. They demanded 
to know the reason for it and began to utter mutinous threats. What they 
heard was something they had long yearned to hear: ‘You yourselves are the 
cause of these events, for you sought to settle elsewhere and in a good land. 
As I could think of no land better than this, I chose this way of granting 



Apochaps in the text* Abu Hats was not caliph {amermoumnes in Greek, from the Arabic amir 
a /- m u 'm i n in means ‘ e m i r of b eljevers 7 or ‘ruler of the faithful 7 ) but a mere emir. On the con- 
quest of Crete see V. Christ Ides, I he conquest of Crete by the Andalousian Muslims (Athens, 1984); 
Tsougarakis, Crete , 30 -4; Treadgold, Byzantine revival , 248—57* 

The reality is somewhat different, Abu Hafs had seized Alexandria in Egypt and was then himself 
besieged in that city by a general of the Abassid caliph A 1 MaYnoun in 827* Negotiations took 
place as a result of which Abu Hafs was allowed to withdraw on condition that be installed his 
people on imperial territory* 

77 There has been much discussion of the year in which the Arabs arrived in Crete* II Abu Hafs was 
in Al exandrla in 827, then 828 is the earliest possible date, already five years after the end of the 
revolt oi Thomas the Slav* 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

you your heart’s desire and ridding myself of your objections.’ When they 
brought to his mind their wives and children, Abu Hats said: ‘You take 
these prisoners here for wives and soon enough they will give you chil- 
dren.’ They were reduced to silence by these words for they felt that what 
had b een said was an adequate explanation. They excavated a deep ditch 
and fortified it with a stockade, from which the place took the name by 
which it is still designated: Chandax. There they passed the nights. 

Before very long the emperor was made aware of what had happened; 7 * 5 
he delegated everything concerning Crete to the protospatharios 
Photeinos, a commander of the Anatolikon theme. He went there, learned 
all about it and reported the matter to the emperor, requesting that forces 
be sent sufficient to frighten the enemy away. The emperor now despatched 
the protospatharius Damian, a count of the imperial stables, with a large, 
well-equipped force, 11 to assist Photeinos the commander. Once their 
forces met up with each other they prepared to attack the Hagarenes but, 
in the end, achieved nothing worthwhile. Damian himself was mortally 
wounded in the first encounter; his death provoked a reversal of fortunes 
for all the rest. Photeinos got away in a last ship by the skin of his teeth 
and himself reported to the emperor what had happened. As he always 
stood high in the emperor’s favour, he was now transferred to govern Sicily 
instead of Crete. The Saracens for their part were still leading a troubled 
and worried existence [44] when a monk came down from the mountains 
of the island and told them they were making a mistake if they thought 
they could live in security if they established themselves in that place. 
Saying this to them, he pointed out Chandax, a favourable spot with 
abundant crops of all kinds. They founded a city there which was like an 
acropolis for the whole island. Setting out from that base they conquered 
that entire island and others too. They enslaved the indigenous population 

* Char ax in Creek; in Arabic chandaq means a ditch* In the west it was known as Candle; today, 

79 The chronology of the first Cretan expeditions is somewhat confused* Skylitzes (following 
Theophanes Continuatus) wou id have us understand that the campaigns of Photeinos, Krateros 
and Ooryphas (. PmbZ 5654 = PBE Ooryphas 2) took place in Michael's reign, he. in the space of 
less than two years, which seems impossible* The second and third campaigns would have taken 
place under Theophilos 

30 Ih is Photeinos (PmbZ 6241 = PBE, Photeinos 9) is the great-grandfather of Zoe Carbonopsina, 
the fourth wife of Leo VI: Theophanes Continuatus, ed* Bekker, 76* 

Ihe emperor added a section of the central army to the thematic forces. Ihis was the usual 
procedure when armies were sent to combat the Arabs in Crete, 

31 Th is passage is inconsistent with the previous statemenl that the Arabs had already established 
their camp at Chandax when they disembarked* The author has probably used two different 
accounts of the founding of Cha ndax and not noticed the contradiction. 

Michael II the Stammerer 


and took [all] the cities of Crete except one. It was at that time that Cyril, 
bishop of Gortyn, achieved the martyr’s crown rather than deny Christ. 84 
That was how Crete was conquered. 

17. Once he was delivered from the civil war, the emperor Michael 
did not ascribe this victory to God, but to his own cunning and tactics. 
Hence, puffed up with pride, he could not master his own impulses. After 
his wife died, he pretended to lead a bachelor life, but he secretly sent notes 
to leading senators urging them to beseech him to marry another wife and 
to th reaten him with violence if he refused. They were to offer the elegant 
argument that it was unbecoming for them to be subject to an emperor 
while their wives were deprived of a Sovereign Lady and empress. At some 
length he was finally convinced by their artificial arguments. First he 
demanded of his subjects a handwritten statement of loyalty, stating that 
after his death they would most certainly honour her who was to be his 
wife and the children born of her; that they would accept one of these to 
be the next emperor and her as Sovereign Lady. Thus he believed he had 
made provision, not only for his own generation, but for the next one too. 
Then, won over by the specious requests of the Senate, he took to wife a 
woman who had formerly been betrothed to Christ, having espoused the 
monastic profession and lived as a nun in the Prinkipo monastery since 
she was a child. She was called Euphrosyne and her father was said to 
have been the emperor Constantine [VI] whom his mother, Eirene, justly 
blinded for his disorderly conduct. 85 So much for the story thus far. 

18. [45] Michael sent another fleet against the Saracens in Crete, under 
the command of Krateros, commander of the Kibyrrhaiote theme. 
This man took the seventy ships already under his command plus all 

^ If this information is correct* the town in question may have been Eleutherna: Tsougarakis, Crete , 
34. According to Theophanes Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 77, this town negotiated with the invader 
and was allowed to remain Christian* 

84 No other source, other than the one on which Genesios, Theophanes Continuatus and Skylkzcs 
drew* says that the Ara bs executed martyrs. There may be confusion here with the martyrdom of 
Cyril of Gortyn in 304: Tsougarakis, Crete , 209 and note 58, 

In this way Michael laid claim to a connection with the glorious dynasty of the Isaurians, which 
he greatly admired a nd of which Constantine VI was the last representative, Euphrosyne {. PmbZ 
T705 = PBE Euphrosyne i) was the daughter of Constantine VI and Mary of Amnia* who was 
the granddaughter of Philaretos the Merciful: J, Herrin, Women in purple: rulers of medieval 
Byzantium (London, 2001), 130—4, 

This attack took place in the reign of Theoplitlos* The Kibyrrhaiote theme provided the greater 
part of the thematic navy. This may he the same Krateros who, as strategos of the Anatolikon 
theme, escorted Theodore the Stoudite into exile {PmbZ 4159* 4 1 5 = PBE Krateros 2, 1)* The role 
of this family (which first appeared in the entourage of Leo V and preserved its high rank into the 
tenth century) has not been suificlen tly emphasised: JVC* C hey net* TJne fam ille meconnue: les 
Krateroi', REB y 59 (2001), 225—38 =Cheynet* SocietS, 583—98. 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

[he could muster] from the other isles and arrived in Crete in great 
pomp. He did not find the Hagarenes bowing to his authority, but rather 
boldly withstanding the danger. They locked horns just as the sun was 
illuminating the mountain ridges and until midday neither side gave an 
inch, each persisting in a determined resistance. But, as the day began 
to wane, the weakened Cretans took to their heels. Many of them died 
in action; more threw down their arms and were taken prisoner. The 
city might have been taken the same day if night had not fallen — and 
completely changed the situation. The Romans were now as if they were 
already conquerors, expecting to ma ke very short work of the little that 
was left of the enemy next day. They proceeded to indulge themselves 
in drink and other pleasures as though they were at home and not sta- 
tioned in a foreign country. They gave no thought to posting sentries 
or to any other safety precautions. Ihey could think of nothing other 
than sleep, repose and relaxation — which can so easily undo everything, 
ihus, around midnight, the Cretans (who were wide awake and deeply 
worried) learned from their own sentries that the men in the Roman 
encampment had fallen prey to sleep and wine. They promptly attacked 
with loud shouting and, finding [the Romans] overcome with wine, slew 
them to a man, leaving Tot even a messenger , (as the proverb says) to tell 
the tale. Only the commander managed to save his life — by embarking 
on a merchant vessel. The Saracen commander mounted an intensive 
search for him, first among the fallen, then among the prisoners, but in 
vain. Tien, learning of his flight, he sent men in pursuit of him. They 
caught up with him in the island of Kos where they executed him by 

19. [46] Then, at the emperor’s command, a warrior by no means lack- 
ing in intelligence and shrewdness whose name was Ooryphas,^ 7 assem- 
bled an army called ‘the fortiers’ — because each man received forty pieces 
of gold. He went against the other islands, killing the Hagarenes caught 
foraging, either in ambush or in open combat. He turned back the Cretans 
and withstood their massive and irresistible onslaught. 

20. Ihat is what happened so far. About the same time a man named 
emios who was in charge of a unit in Sicily 49 fell in love with a maiden 



The lirst mention of this person who is to he identified with the droungarios of the watch under 
Theophilos, probably the father of the famous admiral Niketas Ooryphas who distinguished 
himself in the service of Basil 1 . 

Ibis was 3,3 times the most an experienced thematic soldier could hope to earn each year, twelve 
pieces of gold (W. Treadgold, Byzantium and its army, 284—1081 (Stanford, CA, 1995), 119—23). 
Euphemios (. PmhZ 1701 = PBE Euphemius 1) was a tourmarch whom the commander of the 
Island, Constantine Soudes ( PmbZ 1928 - PBE (Constant) nos 231), had put in charge of the 

Michael II the Stammerer 


who had lived the monastic life since childhood. He made many efforts to 
satisfy his desires with no respect for the law whatsoever. He looked to 
the emperor who had dared to do the same thing as his sole exemplar. He 
snatched the maiden from her monastery and took her home with him 
against her will. Her brothers went and reported the matter to Michael; he 
ordered the commander [of the theme] to cut off bold Euphemios’ nose if 
he found the charge were true. When Euphemios learnt of this, he bound 
those under his command to him with oaths and also some of his fello w 
officers. He drove off the commander who came to execute the emperor’s 
order and fled to the ruler of Africa. To him he promised to put the 
whole of Sicily in subjection and to pay much tribute if he would pro- 
claim [Euphemios] emperor of the Romans, Agreeing to this offer, the 
emir proclaimed him emperor of the Romans and furnished him with a 
sizeable body of troops. Thus [the emir] became master of Sicily, which 
was delivered into his hands by this man. But Euphemios was not able 
to enjoy his imperial status for long, [47] because his head was cut off 
in retribution for his apostasy and misdeeds. The way in which he was 
eliminated is worth reporting. As he was going around Sicily in imperial 
regalia, being proclaimed, he arrived before Syracuse. 92 Drawing ahead of 
his company and bodyguard, he came to within a bowshot of the city and 
addressed the citizens, endeavouring to conciliate them with his words. 
Two Syracusan brothers, however, noted that he was isolated. They put 
their heads together and came to an agreement. With one mind they 
approached him in a dissembling way (but scornfully), going through the 
motions of offering him the reverence due to an emperor. Totally unaware 
of their pretence, Euphemios readily accepted their acknowledgement 
and greeting; then he amicably invited them to approach him so he could 
embrace them himself. But as he bowed his head and brought his mouth 
near to the mouth of one of the brothers, this one seized him firmly by the 


fleet: Treadgold, Byzantine revival , 248—9); V, Prigcnt, ‘La carriere du tourmarque Euphemios, 
has ileus des Remains', A ctes du XXe Cong res International d’Etudes Byzantines (Paris, 2001), 
Preseni>day Tunisia corresponds more or less to the ancient Roman province of Africa, It was 
then governed by the dynasty of the Aghlabids (800—909), technically (and decreasingly) subser- 
vient to the Abbasids. The rebellion oi Euphemios started in 826 and lasted two years (Treadgold, 
Byzantine revival , 250—4)* 

len thousand infantry (?) and seven hundred cavalry. For details of the operation reported by the 
Arab sources see Vasiliev and Canard, I, 66—8* 

Syracuse was the other main city ol Sicily besides Palermo* It was well fortified and possessed 
a fine harbour from which it derived its importance. '[he assassination actually took place near 
to Henna/Castrogiovanni, one of the principal fortified positions on the island: M* Amari, 
Bibliotheca Arabo-Sicula (Leipzig, 1857), 1, 367* Now see E* Kislinger, Regionalgesch i chte als 
Quelleproblem * Die Chronik von Monemvasia und das sizilianische Demenna* Eine historich-topog- 
ra p hisch e Stu die ( Vi e n n a , 2001). 

y 1 

5 ° 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

hail* while the other brother cut off his head. Thus Euphemios paid the 
just price for his folly. 

21. From then on the Hagarenes became masters, not only of Sicily, 
but of Calabria and of the greater part of Italy — where they overran and 
ravaged everything. 

22. When Michael had ruled the empire for nine years and eight months 
he fell ill with dysentery and died. 1,4 He had brought upon the Roman 
state all the evils we mentioned as the narrative progressed, through his 
disrespect for God and his ineptitude in state affairs. The whole of [48] 
Dalmatia rebelled in his reign too. There was an ancient oracle referring 
to him which went like this: 

Ihe reign of evil will afflict the earth 
When Babylon is by a dragon ruled, 

A stammerer with too much love of gold. 

His corpse was buried in the great mausoleum of Justinian at [the church 
of the] Holy Apostles in a sarcophagus of green marble from Thessaly.' 06 

After an initial setback, the army and fleet sent by Michael II at the end of 828 under the com- 
mand of Theodores recovered almost the entire island* But the African Arabs returned to the 
attack and lor three-quarters of a century endeavoured to conquer the whole ol Sicily* 

94 2 October 829. 

95 Byzantine Dalmatia was reduced to little more than a coastal strip, including the towns of 
D ubrovnik and Zadar* Its status in the earlier tenth century is unsure* According to the Taktikon 
Uspensky (842/8^3) it was theoretically under the command of an arch on y but it may have been 
elevated to the ran k of a th erne commanded by a strategos for a time: J. Ferluga, Uamminhtrazione 
hizantina in Dalmazia (Venice, 1978) and Oikonomides, Listes, 353, 

96 P* Grierson, ‘The tombs and obits of ihe Byzantine emperors (337—1042), w ith an additional note 


by C* Mango and I. Sevcenko*, DOP y 16 (1962), 3—63, at 56* 


i. [49] After the death of Michael [II], his son, Th eophilos (who was 
already of age), succeeded to his father’s throne in the month of October, 
in the eighth year of the in diction. According to what he said, he wanted 
to acquire a reputation for being a zealous devotee of justice and a dili- 
gent observer of the laws of the state, but the truth of the matter is that 
he made this pretence in order to distance himself from the conspirators, 
thus ensuring that nobody make a desperate move against him. 

So, from the outset, he resolved to bring ruin and destruction on all 
chose who had taken pare with his farher in the dea th of L eo [V]. To this 
end, he issued a command that everybody who enjoyed imperial titles 
and all who had benefited from imperial munificence in any way what- 
soever were to assemble in the Magnaura; that is, at the Pentapyrgion. 
When that was accomplished and everybody was gathered together as 
he had commanded, keeping the ferocity of his soul concealed, he spoke 
to the assembled company in a modest and gentle voice: ‘O my people 
and my inheritance; it was the will and desire of my late father to bestow 
many titles, benefits and other honours upon those who supported and 
defended his rule. Events overtook him and it is to me, the successor to his 
throne, that he has left this undischarged debt, in order that he not appear 
ungrateful to his supporters. So, let each one of those men step forward 
from the crowd and show himself to us plainly; so that, knowing which 

Theophilos (. PmbZ 8167 = PBE Th eophilos 5), b orn at Amorion in 81^ was crowed co-emperor in 
821* He was sixteen when his father died and he became sole emperor — 2 October 8295 Grierson, 
"I he tombs and. obits of the Byzantine emperors (337—1042), with an additional note by C . Mango 
and L Sevcenko’, DOP , 16 (1962), 3—63, at 56, Unlike his predecessors, he had received an excellent 
education (supervised by John the Grammarian) to prepare him for the throne: A. Markopoulos, 
'The rehabilitation ot the emperor Theophilos’,. Byzantium in the ninth century: dead or alive?, ed. 
L. Brubaker (SPBS, 5, Ashgate, T9 98), 37—49, reproduced in Markopoulos, History , no. xx. 

: Built by Constantine the Great* the Magnaura was a basil ica in the Great Palace wit Uth ree naves, 
used characteristically tor the lormal reception of foreign ambassadors. The pentapyrgium was a 
display cabinet where various precious objects could be seen to advantage: R. Jan in, Constantinople 
hyzantine (A()C\ 4 A, Paris, T964), 115. 


5 * 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

of you are friends, we may reward you as you deserve.’ All those wretches 
who had participated in the slaying of Leo [V] were deceived and had 
their heads turned by these words, with the result that each one showed 
himself. Having thus netted his prey, Theophilos immediately ordered the 
eparch ’ to apply [50] the laws of th e state to them, saying: Go to it, eparch; 
you have authority from God and from our own Serenity to pass judge- 
ment on these persons and to reward them according to their deeds: not 
only for having stained their hands with human blood, but also because 
they slew the Lords anointed within the sanctuary.’ 4 Having made this 
pronouncement, he dissolved his first and truly amazing general assem bly 
[syllogos] . The wretched fellows in question were arrested by the eparch and 
each of them underwent the punishment for murder, 

2, Theophilos also drove his stepmother from the palace and obliged 
her to enter the monastery in which she was originally tonsured. Thus the 
oaths which the senate had sworn to Michael were of no avail.' 

3. This was how Theophilos started out, but what came afterwards is not 
unworthy of praise. Dedicating himself to the cause of justice, he inspired 
terror in every malefactor, but admiration in the righteous; in these because 
he showed himself to be a just man who hated evil, in those because of his 
rigour and severity towards them. He cannot, however, be acquitted oi 
all evil; for while he kept faith with God, he kept faith a fortiori with the 
ab ominable heresy (inherited from his father) o fth ose who opposed the 
icons. Thus, throughout his reign he relentlessly afflicted the pious and all- 
holy people, allowing them not a moment of calm throughout his reign. 7 

* The eparch of the City was effectively the governor of Constantinople: QDB, I, 704. 

4 Ho christos tou Kyriou , term found in i Sam. 1 6:6; 24:6, 10; 26:946, etc, 

s Not all Michael's co-conspirators appear to have suffered the same fate* One of them, the eunuch 
Thcoktistos, was promoted prefect of the inkpot by Michael and pursued a successful career under 
both Theophilos and Michael 1IL 

6 This refers to the previous passage on the remarriage of Michael II* Theophilos was assisted by 
his stepmother, Euphrosyne (as Michael II intended) until his marriage in 830 when, a new emp- 
ress having come on the scene (Theodora), she withdrew cither to her monastery of Prinkipo 
(Skylitzes) or, which is less likely, to the Constantinopolitan monastery of Gastria, as others 
relate: R* Jan in. La geographic ecclesiastique de Vempire hyzantin, 1, Le siege de Constantinople et le 
patriarcat oecuminique , ill, Les eglises et les monasteres (Paris, 1969), 67—8. The date of 830 for the 
marriage of Theophilos is problematic since it requires the children of that marriage to have been 
born remarkably close to each other and also contradicts the statement that A lex So s Mosel e was 
given the titl e of caesar on the occasion of his engagement to Maria around 835, whereas he seems 
already to have been caesar w hen the triumph ol 831 was celebrated at Constantinople: C. Mango, 

On re-reading the Life of St Gregory the Decapolite’, Byzantina , 13 (1985), 640—3. 

7 U eophilos had b een educated by John the Grammarian, the proponent of the second phase of 
iconoclasm. This may explain why, unlike his father, the new emperor was a determ in ed opponent 
of the icons and w hy, during his reign, persecution of the iconodoules began again, of which the 
most famous example is the maltreatment of the brothers known as Graftal y 'written on’ (see 


lliat is why he was never successful in war but was always worsted; and 
that is why he never came home [in triumph] as an emperor should. 

In his devotion to justice and to what he believed to be faith in and 
zeal for Christ and his Mother, each week he would ride out on horseback 
together with his bodyguard along the thoroughfare leading to the sacred 
church of the Mother of God at Blachernae. In this way he rendered himself 
accessible to all, especially to those who had suffered injustice, giving them 
a chance to rehearse their woes, free of any hindrance by the perpetrators of 
the injustice in their fear of being punished by the emperor. 

It was also his pleasure to inspect the wares as he passed though the 
marketplace. [51] He would enquire of the tradesmen when he was in the 
market how much they sold each item for. This was no casual enquiry, 
merely referring to one commodity, but to all the foodstuffs, beverages, 
the fuel and clothing and, in short, everything that you find in a market. 
In everything he showed great care and concern for the common good, 
sometimes in the courts, sometimes (as we said) in his weekly excursions. 

4. Once when he was looking down, out to sea, from the palace wall for 
the sake of diversion, he saw a merchant vessel of large tonnage, running 
before the wind in full sail, a ship of unrivalled size and unsurpassable 
beauty — at the sight of which he was very much taken aback. He enquired 
whose this merchantman might be and what kind of cargo it was carry- 
ing. On learning that it belonged to the augousta [Theodora], he kept his 
counsel for the time being and bided his time until the day on which he 
was accustomed to go to the sacred church at Blachernae. When Sunday 
came round and he knew where the ship had docked (he had requested 
that information from somebody), he took the route which passed that 
way. He approached the vessel and stationed himself at the prow. Then 
he asked those present several times of what part of the cargo they stood 

8 The writer here is reacting to propaganda in favour of Theophilos, Unlike his father, Theophilos 
the determined iconoclast* following in the paths of the Isaurians, wou lcih ave it that victory over 
the Arabs was a sure sign of divine approval tor his religious policies* In spite oi the severe reverse 
of 838, Theophilos* record, in the field does not merit this degree of censure; yet again a ruler’s 
alleged impiety is said to be responsible for his setbacks* 

; The emperor was not normally accessible to anybody other than his relations and close associates, 
even though he w r as the fi nal judge of appeal* Theophilos was being very innovative in opening 
himself up to people in this way (Ha run al Rashid is said to have done likewise, but incognito)* It 
w r as a 6 km ride from the C ireat Palace to Blachernae, which gave many people the opportunity of 
approaching him, many more of seeing him* 

It was a matter of great importance that the capital had a reliable supply of the necessities of life at 
stable prices, to avoid civil unrest, dhere is nothing here to suggest that the prices were controlled. 
The eparch of the city and his lieutenant (symponos) were responsible for order in tb e market- 
places: N* Oikonomides, Pistes, 320 and note 189* 

PmbZj2,%6 = PBE Theodora 2; J* Herrin, Women in purple: rulers of medieval Byzantium (London, 
200l)j 185-239* 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

in need: grain, wine or some other commodity. After he had asked many 
times, they finished by replying, somewhat reluctantly: ‘Those who are 
under the protection of your rule and reign lack nothing.’ ‘But are you 
not aware,’ said the emperor, ‘that while, at God’s behest, I have become 
emperor, my augousta and wife is turning me into a merchant shipping 
magnate?’ Then he added bitterly: ‘Who ever saw a Roman emperor or 
his spouse indulging in commerce?’ With these words, he gave orders 
that at that very hour, merely allowing time for the crew to disembark, 
the ship was to be given to the flames, together with all its rigging and 
everything she was carrying. As for the Sovereign Lady, he assailed her 
with reproaches and threatened to take her life if she was ever detected 
doing any such thing again. 

5. [52] The empress Theodora originated from Paphlagonia and she 
could boast of having as parents Marinos, a man of no mean distinc- 
tion, and Theoktiste Phlorina. Both had been raised in piety and nei- 
ther had renounced their devotion to the holy icons (as everybody was 
doing at that time), but rather embraced them and clasped them to their 
breasts with zeal. When llieodora was crowned with the diadem,' her 
mother, Theoktiste, was also promoted to the rank of girdled patrician.' 3 
This Theoktiste' 4 had her own house close by the monastery of Gastria' 3 
and there she would receive Th eodora’s children, of which there were 
five: Thekla, Anna, Anastasia, Pulcheria and Maria. She gave them 


1 ■: 



Theodora received the golden apple from Theophilos in a beauty competition organised by the 
empress Euphrosyne* Among the copious literature on th is topic see W. Treadgold, 'The bride- 
shows of the Byzantine emperors', B? 4 9 (1979), 395-413; D, Afinogenov, ‘The bride-show of 
Theophilos: some notes on the sources', Eranos , 95 (1997), 10—18; L Sorlin, Ta plus belle on la 
me i lie ure? Notes sur les concours de bcaute a Byzance et dans la Russie muscovite dcs XV I e— 
XV lie siecles', Melanges Helene Ahrweiler (Paris, T9 98 ), 635—50. Bride -shows, long considered a 
mere literary invention, are now being taken seriously again: M, Vinson, ‘The life of Th eodora 
and the rhetoric of the Byzantine bride-show', /Of?, 49 (1999), 31—60* Theophilos rejected the can- 
didature of the poetess Kassia in this competition because he thought she was too impertinent. 
On Kassia see 1. Rochow, Studi en zu der Person * den Werken und dem Nachlehen der Dichterin 
Kassia (Berlin, 1967). Theophilos was perhaps married on 5 June 830: W. Treadgold, 'The problem 
of the marriage of the emperor Theophilos', GRBS , 16 (1975), 325—41* 

Zoste * This is confirmed by a seal of Theoktiste {PmbZ = PBE Theoktiste), where this dignity is dis- 
played with a note that she is the mother of an empress (G. Zacos, Byzantine lead seals , compiled 
by], W. Nesbitt (Berne, r 9 8 5) , no. T083). Marinos* Theodora's father, was a self-ma de soldier who 
reached the rank of tourmarch * He had probably died before the wedding took place for there is 
no mention ol him receiving any honour* Theodora had many brothers and sisters all of whom 
did well in life or ma de fi ne marriages* 

Skylitzes (here following Iheophanes Continuatus) is doubtless wrong in attributing this attitude 
to Theoktiste rather than to Euphrosyne, Michael's second wife* 

This appears to have been a family foundation; Theodora's close relatives were buried there* 
Thekla {PmbZ 7261 = /TiZFThekla 1) the eldest was associated as empress with her brother, Michael 
1 1 1 , during the regency of Theodora* Sh e was the mistress of the future emperor Basil 1 fora while, 



various gifts which are attractive to the female sex. Then, taking them 
aside, she would earnestly entreat them not to be feeble nor to remain the 
women they were, but to play the man and to think the kind of thoughts 
which were worthy of and appropriate to their mothers breast. They were 
to hold in abomination their father’s heresy and to do homage to the out- 
ward forms of the holy icons. Whereupon she would thrust some of the 
icons (which she kept in a chest) into their hands, setting them against 
their faces an d lips, to sanctify the girls and to stir up in them a devotion 
to the icons. Now it did not escape Theophilos’ attention that she was 
habitually behaving in this manner, nor that she was kindling a favour- 
able attitude to the sacred icons in her grandchildren. For he enquired 
what they had received by way of gifts from their grandmother and what 
she had done that had pleased them. The daughters whose intellects were 
already mature neatly sidestepped their father’s inquiries as though they 
were statements made to be refuted. But Pulcheria, who was still a little 
child, spoke of the kindnesses, the quantity of fruits, and then she went on 
to mention the revering of the sacred icons, saying (her words reflected the 
simplicity of her mind) that her grandmother had many dolls in the chest, 
‘And she puts them to our heads and to our faces after kissing them.’ This 
put the emperor [53] into a rage, but such was the respect and devotion he 
had for his wife that he was restrained from dealing very severely with his 
mother-in-law, even more so on account of the freedom of speech with 
w hichTh eoktiste addressed him. For she used to rebu ke h im openly and 
remonstrate with him about the daily persecution of the [iconodule] con- 
fessors and on the subject of the heresy already mentioned. She was almost 
alone in openly declaring the hatred which everybody had for him. All he 
did was to prevent his daughters from visiting Theoktiste. 

A simil ar occurrence also befell the empress Theodora herself. There 
was a pitiful fell ow living at the palace, a eunuch named Denderis, not 
unlike Homer’s Thersites. He said such odd things that people laughed at 
him; he was maintained in the palace to entertain people. Now one day he 
burst into the empress’ boudoir and surprised her kissing the sacred icons. 
When the fool saw them he asked what they were, and he came nearer to 
find out. Speaking like a peasant, the empress said: ‘ ihese are my pretty 
dolls and I love them very much.’ 

but finally he confiscated her belongings; she ended her days at Blachernae* Anna {PmbZ 460 = 
PBE Anna 2) and her sisters Anastasia {PmbZ 231 = PBE Anastasia 2) and Pulcheria ( PmbZ 6384 = 
PBE Poulcheria 1} were tonsured and sent to the family monastery Ta Gastria by Michael III 
when he became sole ruler* Theophilos^ favourite daughter, Maria {PmbZ 4735 = PBE Maria 4), 
was given in marriage to Alexios Mosele (see below)* 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

The emperor, who was ar table when this deformed young man came to 
him, asked him where he had been. The eunuch replied that he had been 
with ‘mama’, for that is what he called "Theodora; also that he had seen her 
taking pretty dolls from under her pillow in her chamber. The emperor 
took the point: in great wrath he left the table and went to her immedi- 
ately. He hurled verbal abuse at her, calling her (with his unbridled tongue), 
among other things, idolatress, repeating as he did so what the deformed 
one had said. Tire empress, meanwhile, placating the [54] emperor’s wrath, 
said: ‘O, emperor, you have misunderstood; the truth is not as you per- 
ceive it. I was looking at myself in the mirror, attended by my handmaids. 
Denderis saw the faces reflected in it and, from that, he witlessly came 
and reported to you what you said.’ With these words, she assuaged the 
emperor’s wrath. She condemned Denderis to a suitable punishment, con- 
vincing him never again to say anything about the dolls to anybody. So 
that once when Theo phil os was infuriated with the Sovereign Lady, and 
asked Denderis whether ‘mama’ was still kissing her pretty dolls, setting 
his hand to his lips, the fellow replied: ‘Hush emperor, hush! Not a word 
ab out the dolls!’ That is how this matter went. 17 

6. There was a brave soldier who had a high-spirited and well-trained 
horse. The commander under whom he served passionately coveted that 
horse for it had many times brought the soldier safely from the battlefield. 
The commander attempted to gain possession of it, offering a great price, 
and when the man refused he tried coercion. Since th e soldier was still 
not persuaded to hand over his horse, the governor brought a charge of 
cowardice against him before the emperor and had him expelled from the 
regiment in which he served. At that time, Tneophilos was in search of an 
outstanding horse. Orders were sent out in all directions for such a beast to 
be found and to be sent to him. Seizing the opportunity, the commander 
co nfi seated the man’s horse (very much against its owner’s will) and sent 
it to the emperor as though it were his own property. Then war broke out 
and there was a need of more soldiers. The emperor directed that absolutely 
every man capable of bearing arms was to be enlisted; thus the soldier men- 
tioned above re-entered the ranks. Then a rout occurred in which he lost 
his life, for he had no horse capable of saving him. He fell leaving a wife 

17 W, Treadgold, The Byzantine revival \ 782—842 (Stanford, CA, 198 8)* 446—7, has noted, following 
Gregoire, that the Theodora anecdote is a doublet of the loregoing one. It is intended to show 
Theodora as a fervent devotee of the icons* Theo philos’ reaction could hardly be called severe 
since he clearly allowed those nearest to him to honour the icons if they were discreet about it. 
lS Th is sounds as though it could he Theoph ilos ? campaign of 838 in wh icb the Roman army suffered 
some serious defeats. 



and children. Hearing of the emperors love of justice, the wife, inflamed 
by devotion to her husband and no longer able to provide for the needs of 
her children, went up to the capital. She saw Theophilos on the day when 
it was his custom to go to the sacred church at Blachernae — saw him in 
fact mounted upon her husband s horse! With a great burst of spee d she 
seized the beast by the bridle, saying it was hers and that it was none other 
but [55] the emperor himself who was responsible for her husband s death. 

I his greatly surprised the emperor; he ordered her to wait until he came 
back to the palace. As soon as he returned, he had her brought before him, 
whereupon he questioned her to discover more precisely the substance in 
what she had said. Taking up the story from the beginning, the woman 
told it to the end for the emperors benefit. The commander was imme- 
diately ordered to appear and a rigorous enquiry ensued concerning the 
horse — during which, at the emperor s command, the woman remained 
out of sight. When the governor insisted that the horse was his own prop- 
erty and not something he had acquired by confiscation, the emperor sud- 
denly produced the woman from behind a curtain, an infallible witness, 
contradicting what the governor said. When the accused saw her, he was 
thunderstruck and stood there, speechless, for some time. Then he just 
managed to regain enough of his composure to embrace the emperors feet 
in tears and become a humble petitioner, having made a clean breast of all 
his misdeeds. And what did the emperor do? He declared that th e woman 
and her children were to be brothers and sister to th e commander, of equal 
rank with him and co-heirs of his fortune. He relieved the culprit of his 
command and sent him into perpetual exile. 19 That was how implacably 
opposed he was to those who seized others’ goods and those who sought to 
enrich themselves by unjust means. 

7. The same emperor was also involved in building and he took particu- 
larly great care of the city walls. He tore down the lower ones and built 
them higher, making them insurmountable by the enemy. They stand to 
this day, bearing his title inscribed upon them." 0 In addition to that, he 
drove the prostitutes from certain dwellings and, having cleared all that 



In th os e days the horse was not provided by the state; it was the personal property of the sol- 
dier, which is why the commander was charged w ith theft- Commanders had complete author- 
ity, including judicial authority, over their subordinates: Le traite sur la guerilla de Lemper eur 
Nicephore phocas , ed. G* Dagron and H. Mihaescu (Le monde byzantin, Paris, 1986), 269-72* 
Subordinates had little chance of satisfaction il they were wronged by their superiors* Here the 
commander suffers a double punishment: exile (with the loss of his pay) and the partial confisca- 
tion of his property, which has to be shared wit h th e woman and her children. Th is W T OLl Id be an 
exemplary story meant to restrain greedy senior officers from acting unjustly. 

One such inscription (now lost) used to be visible at the Pege gate near the Golden Horn* Others 
were placed along the wall bordering the sea of Marmara (Janin, Constantinople , 290, 294—5)* 

58 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

quarter, he built a very large and beautiful hostelry there which bears his 
name.' 1 

8. That is what he did to counteract sexual immorality, and yet it is 
said of him that he once fell prey to the beauty of a handmaid who served 
the empress [56] and that he slept w ith h er; this at a time when his life 
was not so well disciplined. When he realised what he had done and that 
Theodora, fully aware of his fall, was very depressed, they say that he held 
his hands up to God and declared on oath that this was the only time he 
had fallen; and that he begged forgiveness of his own wife. 

He built a palace for his daughters in the district called Ta Karianou , 
traces of the ruins of which can be seen in our own times. 22 

9, Wishing to render the power of the empire abundantly clear to the 
Saracens, either to make them fully aware of his munificence or to render 
himself fearful to them, he sent his former teacher, John the synkellos, 
to the ruler of the Syrians. Loyal to the emperor and of the same heresy as 
him, [John] was experienced in affairs of state and highly skilled in debat- 
ing. 24 In addition to forty kentenaria of gold, he was entrusted with many 
things which are the wonder of the Roman empire and the astonishment of 
other people. The other goods were sent as gifts for the amermoumnes\ the 
gold was provided so that John could be lavish and generous in his munifi- 
cence. For if an ambassador scattered gold at will, as though it were sand, 
he who sent him wou Id so much the more gain the admiration which he 
deserved. In addition to this, the emperor also gave him two golden vessels 
set about with precious stones, commonly called cherniboxestra T In this 
way he made every effort to promote and enhance his ambassador. 




Apart from maintenance of the walls and the construction of the Elcuthere palace* imperial building 
had virtually ceased since the time of I leraklios; hence Theophilos 1 buildings suggest an economic 
revival: Treadgold, Byzantine revival , 265; Jan in, Constantinople , 108, 114, 132, 434, etc. The hospice in 
question replaced a convent which was falling down, the nuns having been transferred elsewhere, 
Janin, Constantinople , 132* says this palace — close to Blachernae — must be distinguished from 
the building of the similar name (Karianos) erected by Thcophilos w ithin the Great Palace, For 
the evidence of the Patriai A.* Berger, Untersuchungen zu den P atria Konstantinupoleos (Polkila 
Byzantina, 8, Bonn, 1988), 476-7, 

John the Grammarian of the Armenian family of the Morocharzanioi was appointed by Michael II 
to educate his son. He was appointed [proto-J synkellos, which in those days meant he would suc- 
ceed the sitting patriarch in due course: P. Lemerle, Le premier bumanisme hyzantin (Paris, I 97 l). 
154-68; ODB , n, 1052. 

When he was superior of the monastery of SS Sergios and B audios, John was appointed by Leo V 
to head a commission whose task was to prepare for the return of iconoclasm. 

These ewers are sometimes mentioned in wills, e.g. of Eusta th ios Boilas and of Kale 
Pakouriane: P, Lemerle, Cinq etudes sur le Xle siecle hyzantin (Le monde hyzantin, Paris, 1977), 
37; Actes dlviron, 11: Du milieu du Xle siecle a izoj, ed. J, Lefort, N, Oikonomides, and D, 
Papachryssanthou (Archives de PAthos, 16, Paris, 1990) Act 47, line 27. 

The Byzantine embassy led by John set out shortly after the accession of Theophilos, probably 
in the autumn of 829. Ihe ruler of Syria In that case w r ould be the Abbassid caliph al MaYniin 



As he approached Babylon (now known as Baghdad), John greatly 
distinguished himself by the words which smoothly flowed from his lips; 
greatly also by the wealth which proliferated about him. Nor were they 
small gifts which he gave to those who were sent to him or came to visit 
him, but large ones, as bents the emperor of the Romans. The ambassa- 
dor gained the wonder and respect of the Saracens from the moment he 
crossed the frontier of the barbarians. When he had reached [57] the ruler 
and given him the emperor’s message, he withdrew to his place of resi- 
dence. It was there that he demonstrated his magnanimity and his kindly 
skill in all things. In order to exalt and magnify the Roman state, to every 
person who, for whatever reason, great or small, came or was sent to him, 
he presented a silver vessel filed with gold pieces. On one occasion when 
he was banqueting with the barbarian, he told his servants to make one of 
those rich vessels mentioned above disappear without a trace. There was no 
small outcry at the disappearance of this object. The barbarians, who were 
deeply impressed by the beauty of it, were sick at heart and undertook a 
great search and enquiry to And the stolen object. John then ordered the 
other vessel to be produced and the one that was lost to be written off, 
at which the search was to be called off. This led the Saracens to wonder 

Responding in kind to this munificence and not wishing to be left in 
second place, the ruler of the Arabs showered the ambassador with gifts — 
in which he took no interest, but which he rejected before the rulers face, 
as though they were dust. So the ruler gave him a hundred prisoners newly 
released from prison, whom he had stripped of the mournful garb of 
imprisonment and dressed in fine clothing. John praised the generosity 
of the giver but, even so, he would not accept them. He said they should 
remain in comfort and at liberty with the Arabs until a fitting compensa- 
tion were arranged and an equal number of Saracen prisoners, now lan- 
guishing in Roman gaols, be given in exchange. In these ways he reduced 
the Saracen [ruler] to amazement. He no longer treated John as a foreigner, 
but as a familiar friend whom he frequently invited to his home, showing 

(813 — the son oi Harun al Rashid. The object ol displaying all that wealth was to discourage 
him Irom leading raids into Roman territory under the pretence of jihad. Skylitzes says nothing 
of a second objective: to negotiate with Manuel* the former commander of the Asiatic th ernes 
who had taken refuge in Baghdad from a false charge of conspiracy. Ireadgald* Byzantine revival \ 
268 and 431. 

■" Baghdad was founded by the caliph Mansur in 762, It was located near to Ctesiphon, capital city 
of the Seleuclds, itself the heir to Babylon. Babylon was also the name given to the fortress in 
Egypt near to which the Arabs founded bustat; from this some confusion has arisen. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

him his personal treasure and the beauty of his palaces. He honoured him 
in various ways until the day he went back to the Romans. : 

When John left Syria and returned to Theophilos, he described how 
things were there and also persuaded the emperor to build the Bryas palace 
based, on the Saracens’ [58] way of building palaces, deviating from their 
mo del in no detail of plan nor in the diversity of its decoration. He pro- 
posed to oversee the project himself and to be the architect of the build- 
ing. He convinced the emperor and the task was accomplished along the 
lin es John described, except for the addition of one item: a church erected 
in the name of the Mother of God within the imperial residence itself. 
In the forecourt of this palace a church with three apses was built. It far 
exceeded all other churches both in size and in beauty. Ihe central apse 
was dedicated in the name of Michael the arch-commander: the apses to 
either side in the names of holy women martyrs. 

10. In suchlike matters [Theophilos]] seemed (and was thought) to be 
magnificent and wonderful, but to those who revered the divine and pure 
icons he was very harsh and severe, striving to outdo all the tyrants who 
had preceded him in cruelty. Those predecessors were: Leo [V] and his 
own father, Michael [II] the Stammerer. The latter directed that on no 
painted icon (if any such paintings there were anywhere) was the word holy 
[= saint] to be written, because such a word was appropriate only to God — 
in which his reasoning was not very shrewd. For God applied the word 
god’ to men, which is higher than the epithet saint’, for 'saint’ is a much 
more lowly title — so He would not have denied it to men. Nevertheless, 
th at is what Michael [II] decreed; and the emperor before him [Leo V] 
completely forbade the veneration of icons. For his part, Theophilos ruled 
that there was to be no painting of icons. It was ignoble (he said) to be 
impressed with such objects; one should look only upon what is real and 
true. Whereupon all the sacred figures in the churches were removed. 

28 The embassy was really a failure tor it did not succeed in averting the caliph’s victorious campaign 
of 830, Manuel remained wi th the caliph, serving as counsellor to his son, given the task of put- 



ting an end to the rebellion of Rabek in Chorassan {ODB, n, 1289), 

The palace of Bryas (the foundations of which can still be seen today) was built on the Asiatic 
shore of the Bosporus ( ODB y 1, 328), not on the return of John but after the emperor returned vic- 
tor io us from his campaign against Sozopetra and Melitene in 837. It is possible that the prisoners 
of w r ar included some masons familiar ’with Muslim building techniques. The names of the other 
saints to whom the church of St Michael was consecrated are not known. Treadgold, Byzantine 
revival , 294—5, thinks these may have been Thekla, Anna and Anastasia, the same as Theophilos 1 
first three eldest daughters, while Janin ( Constantinople , 146) opts for Menodora, Metrodora and 
Nymphodora, the objects of particular veneration in Bithynia* See most recently A* Ricci, ' Ihe 
road irom Baghdad to Byzantium and the case of the Bryas palace in Istanbul 1 , Byzantium in the 
ninth century ; dead or alive ? ', ed. L. Brubaker (SPBS, 5, Aldershot, 1998), 131—49. 

Ps. 81/82:6, M have said you are gods 1 . 



Depictions of wild beasts and birds were set up in their stead, [59] which 
showed the beastly and slavish nature of that emperors mentality.” Then 
the holy and sacred objects were thrown into the marketplace by sacri- 
legious hands and treated abominably. Then the prisons which were 
intended to hold evil-doers were filled with those who honoured the sacred 
pictures: monks, bishops, layfolk and icon-painters. Full too th en were the 
mountains and caves; full of those who were being put to death by hunger 
and thirst, as though they were evil-doers. For the emperor decreed that 
the cities be out of bounds to the monks; he ordered them to be kept at a 
distance by all available means. They should not even dare to show them- 
selves in the countryside. By these means he transformed the monasteries 
and places of retreat into glorious tombs, for the holy men were unwilling 
to betray virtue and their sacred habit, preferring rather to lose their lives 
by hunger and affliction. But there were some who held their cloth in low 
esteem and, on that score, went down to destruction. Many of those who 
lived in an easy-going way took up a yet more dissolute and relaxed life- 
style, setting aside not only divine hymns and songs, but even the wearing 
of the habit. For the tyrant did not even allow them to hold the assemblies 
[$yllogot\ that often are alone capable of restraining (like a kind of bridle) 
those who abandon themselves to their passions in a disorderly manner. 

However, not even then did all men refrain from speaking their 
minds freely and boldly. Many of the more zealous, several of them as 
individuals, 4 some in groups (such as the monks from the monastery of 
the Abramites), 5 appeared boldly before him and, making a reasoned case 
from the sayings of the holy fathers (Dionysios the Great, Hierotheos and 
Irenaeus), demonstrated that it was not yesterday nor in recent times th at 
the monastic way of life had been invented and established, but that it was 
something ancient, going back to the beginnings. They also pointed out 
that the figures of the sacred icons were something familiar to the apostles, 

11 On painting in the iconoclastic period: [. Lafontaine-Dosogne, Tour one problem at ique de la 
peinture d’eglise a Pepoque iconoclaste*, DOP t 41 (1987), 321—37; A. Cutler and j.-VL Spieser, 
Byzance medievale joo-1204 (Paris, 1996), 9-47; N. Thierry, La Cappadoce de Vantiquiti au moyen 
age (Turnhout, 2002), 135—42. 

12 Oblique reference to Heb. 1 1:46 — S. While Theophilos was undoubtedly the most determined 
antagonist of the second wave of iconoclasm, his repression does not seem to have fall en on any 
famous victims other than Euthymios of Sardis, He was content to keep the leading proponents 
o f the icons in exile, where a number of outstanding figures died during his reign: Joseph the 
brother ol Theodore the Stoudite, archbishop of Thessalonike, John of Kathara, Peter of Atroa 
and so forth. 

' ■ Pro balily a reference to the decree of 833 ordering the arrest of known iconodules. 

34 Certain Bithynian monks in particular, e.g* John of Kathara and Macarios of Pelekete. 

- A celebrated monastery at Constantinople possibly dating back to the sixth century: Janin, Eglises 
et manastercs, 1, 4—6 . 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

since Luke, the sacred apostle, portrayed the figure of the Mother of God. 
And Christ, our Lord and God, left his own figure imprinted on a piece of 
linen without the intervention of hands. 36 

So, then, these godly men who exposed the tyrant’s mindlessness and 
provoked his brutality by speaking far too freely [60] were exiled from the 
city after suffering much torture and many blows. They reached the sacred 
church of the Forerunner [John the Baptist] known as Phoberos (on the 
Euxine sea) 37 and there, completely overwhelmed by their w hip-inflicted 
wounds, they were deemed worthy of their eternal rest. Their venerable 
bodies were left lying on the ground, where they remained intact for some 
considerable time, until some pious souls took them up and buried them. 
These accorded them honours similar to those that are rendered to the 
martyrs who died for Christ who is God. 

Exploits comparable with and of the same kind as these were performed 
by another monk who had recently attained the priesthood. Filled with 
divine zeal, he withstood the tyrant to his face and, among many other 
things, he cited that dictum of Paul the Apostle which says: ‘If any man 
preach unto you any other gospel than that which you received, let him 
be anathema.’ 38 [The emperor] had him severely flogged and then, when 
he realised that the man stood even firmer in his convictions, he sent him 
to Jannes, ,9 who had been the tyrants master and teacher and whom he 
besought to convince the man by argument. But this noble athlete reduced 
[Jannes] to the dumbness of fish, not by sophistical and syllogistic demon- 
strations, but by the words of the apostles and of the gospels. He promptly 
received another good beating and was sent into exile. Later on he took 
refuge w ith Tg natios the Great, with whom he stayed for some time. He 
made some pronouncements about the emperors who were yet to come, 
for he had been found worthy to receive the gift of prophecy, and then he 
went to the Lord. 

In his hatred of the godly icons, the tyrant forced every likeness-painter 
either to quit the society of men or, if he chose to live, to spit on the icons 

,(l The famous mandylion of Edessa, the most celebrated of the acheiropoietos - images (‘not made 
with hands*) brought to Constantinople in 944 (see below). This and the icon of the Theotokos 
allegedly painted by St Luke are often cited by the iconodules in their polemic, e.g* in the Life oj 
Stephen the Younger , ch* 9. 

This monastery was located at the north of the Bosporos; it was sufficiently isolated to serve as a 
prison for obdurate iconodules: Jan in, Grands centres hyzantins , 1 1, 7-8. 

58 GaL 1:9* 

» Ih is is a deliberate attempt to distort the name of John the Grammarian (Ioannes), the future 
patriarch. Jannes is a biblical character, a magician who opposed Moses: 2 Tim* 3:6—8, possibly 
referring to Ex. 7 and 8; see S, Gero, ‘Jannes and Jamb res in the Vita Stephani lunioris , BHG 
1 666\ AnalBoll , 113 (1995), 287—8. The monk who disputed with John remains unidentified ( PBE , 
Anonymous, 194). 



and to tread them under foot on the ground, as an abomination. Lazaros 
the monk was arrested along with the others; in those days, he was a 
celebrated practitioner of the art of the likeness-painter. 40 The enemy of 
God first tried flattery to bring him into line but, perceiving him to be 
beyond the reach of any kind of fawning, he resorted to violence, his nat- 
ural ally. He tortured him [61] so severely that it was thought unlikely 
that he would survive. Grievously broken in body, he was confined in 
a prison. When [the emperor] learned, however, that he was no sooner 
restored to health than he started setting up the sacred pictures 41 again, 
he ordered iron plates to be heated in the coals and to be applied to the 
palms of his hands. The fire devoured his flesh to the point at which the 
athlete lost consciousness and lay half-dead. But the grace of God must 
have determined that he survive to be a spark [to ignite] those who wo uld 
come after. For when the tyrant learnt that this saintly man was at his 
last breath, bowing to the entreaties of the empress and of others close to 
him, he released him from prison and concealed him in the church of the 
Forerunner known as Phoberos. There, in spite of his wounds, the man 
painted an icon of the Forerunner, it was kept there for a long time and 
it accomplished healings. This is what happened at that time; after the 
death of the tyrant and the restoration of orthodoxy it was Lazaros who 
set up the icon of [esus Christ, God and man, in the Chalke with his own 
hands. 42 He was invited by the extraordinary empress Theodora to grant 
pardon to her husband and to intercede for him. ‘O empress,’ he replied, 
God is not so unjust as to lorget our love and our labour on his behalf 
while holding in higher honour the hatred and the presumptuous folly of 
that man.’ But this comes later. 

The blood-stained tyrant, knowing that Theophanes the confessor 
and Theodore his brother were quite different from the many others so 
far as learning is concerned, summoned them to the banqueting hall 
of Lausiakos f to engage in a public debate concerning matters of faith. 
‘Come on then, you accursed ones,’ he said, ‘by what sayings of scripture 
are you persuaded to worship the idols’ — for that is how he spoke of the 

40 This monk of Khazar origins was employed to transport the gifts sent by Michael III to the 
Roman pope Benedict 1 1 1 {PmbZ 4234 = PBE Lazaros 2). See C. Mango, ‘Documentary evidence 
in the apse mosaics of St Sophia', BZ , 47 (1954), 395-402, 

41 Morph ai * 

41 According to the chronicler Theophanes, it was the taking down of this very icon which insti- 
gated the iconoclast controversy in 726. 

41 Built by Justinian II to the north of the Chrysotriklinos, this chamber was decorated by 
Theophilos w iih mosaics on a field of gold: R* G uilland, Etudes de topographic de Constantinople 
byzantine (Amsterdam, 1969), 154-60. 

6 4 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

holy icons in his unbridled thought and speech — ‘and to persuade the 
innocent common people to do likewise?’ To this he added some other 
discordant blasphemies against the icon of Christ our God, with a mouth 
that knew no shame. The blessed ones declared: ‘Let the mouth be dumb 
which speaks iniquity against God.’ 44 For his part, he concealed the lion 
for the time being and played the part of the fox, asking what might 
be the pronouncements of the prophets and [62] the testimonies which 
enjoined the veneration of the icons. When one of the brothers, the blessed 
Theophanes, advanced something taken from the prophecy of Isaiah, 
Theophilos objected that the quotation was incorrect. Leafing through his 
own book, he showed them the alleged correct wording. The saint pro- 
tested that he had tampered with not only that book, but also every other 
book which had come into his hands. He proposed that someone should 
bring him the book which lay in such-and-such a place in the patriarchal 
library at lhomaites 45 to confirm what he was alleging. Someone was sent 
and, quicker than it takes to tell, brought the book. Quite deliberately, the 
emperor missed the passage in question as he leafed through it and quite 
shamelessly jumped over the statement they were looking for as he went in 
search of one passage or another. The blessed Theophanes indicated this to 
him and, pointing with his finger, he said: ‘Turn three leaves and you will 
find the passage we are looking for.’ The emperor could not tolerate being 
so boldly told he was wrong, especially when he knew there was truth in 
what the other sa id. He cast aside his mask of patience, revealing the beast 
within. ‘An emperor ought not to be subject to the insults of men like you,’ 
he said. He ordered them to be taken to the inner garden of the Lausiakos 
and to be beaten. They were to receive two hundred blows with the heavi- 
est rods, and on the foreheads were to be inscribed by barbaric tattooing 
some worthless iambic lines he had written. Here they are: 

When all the world went running to that town 
Where the all-holy feet of God the Word 
Once stood f ensure the safety o f the WO rid, 

In that most pious place th ese did appear 
Who are an evil vesse 1 of superstitious error. 

Which superstitious men, achieving there 
With impious mind the deeds of unbelief 
Most horrid, were expelled as apostates 
And exiles. Thence they fled, sad refugees, [63] 

44 Pss. 30:19 and 106:42. 

44 R. t luillandj ‘Le Th omaiteset le Patriarcat^/Oi?, 5 (1956), 27—40, repr. lopographie> tt, 14—27* 



Unto the capital and seat of government — 

But did not leave aside their foolishness 

Hence, indicted and condemned, an evil perpetrator of the image, 

They are banished once again. 

1 Ills was quickly accomplished and, for their part, [the brothers] acquired 
the confessors’ and martyrs’ crowns. But, as for that violent and most 
wretched of all wretches, it was revealed to everybody that he was a blas- 
phemer, a persecutor and the most false believer of all the false believers 
who might ever exist. 46 He also took Michael, 47 synkellos of the church of 
the Holy City, with many other ascetics and shut them up in prison — in 
the hope that prolonged affliction would bring them into subjection. Such 
was his outrageous aggression against the saints, and that is how he des- 
pitefully insulted both the Man who appeared on ea rth for us who is truly 
God and also th at Man’s genuine servants. And this was not for a short 
time or a limited period; his whole lifetime long he was maltreating them 
and subjecting them to irremediable afflictions. 

11. He prided himself on being something of a poet/musician; 48 thus he 
composed some hymns and set some verses to music, ordering them to be 
sung. Among other things, he transposed ‘Bless ye the Lord’ of the four th 
ode along the lines of ‘Give ear, O Virgin’ of the eighth ode, endowing it 
with a different rhythm. This he ordered to be sung publicly in the church 
of God. There is also a story that he was so enamoured of music that he 
did not consider it beneath his dignity to conduct [the singing] with his 
own hand on high festival days at the Great Church — for which he gave 
the clergy one hundred pounds of gold. They say that the Palm Sunday 
anthem, ‘Go out ye people, go forth O Gentiles ’, i s the fruit of his intellect. 

12. [64] His hair was very thin by nature; in fact he was bald on the 
forehead. So he published an edict 49 that everywhere men should cut their 
ha ir close to the skin and that no Roman should be permitted to wear 
his hair below the neck. He who disobeyed this decree was to be given a 
sound whipping. Thus the emperor prided himself on restoring the virtue 
of the ancient Romans. 

46 There is some discussion about when the Graptoi {‘written on) brothers (PmbZ 7526 = PBE 
Theodoros 68; PmbZ 8093 = PRk Iheophanes 6), originally from Jerusalem, suffered. It was prob- 
ably in 839 at the latest. See (most recently) S, Efthym iadis, ‘Notes on the correspondence of 
Theodore the Studite’, REB, 53 (1995), 141— 4, 

47 Oil this person {PmbZ >059 = PBE Michael 51): M. Cunningham* The Life of Michael the Synkellos 
(BBTT, i, Belfast, 1991). 

4S Melodas has both meanings* as the context makes clear, 

49 Theophanes Continuatm * ed. I, Bekker (CSHB, Bonn, 1838)* 107; R Dolger, Regesten der 
Kaiserurkunden des ostromischen Reiches von 5^5—4454. L TeiL Regesten von fs ~ 102 5 (Munich and 
Berlin, 1924) no. 445, 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

13- Being the father of five daughters (as we said before) but no male 
heir, 50 he thought he should find a husband for his youngest daughter, 
Maria/ 1 who was most especially dear to him. The bridegroom he selected 
was a member of the Krinitai family, from the land of the Armenians. 
He was called Alexios, and Mosele was his surname. He was handsome 
and in the flower of man hood. 52 First the emperor honoured him with the 
titles of patrician and proconsul, then of magister and, finally, caesar, 5 ’ He 
gave him a considerable army and sent him to Longobardia to deal with a 
pressing problem. 4 Alexios acquitted himself well in his commission and 
did as the emperor expected, whereupon his popularity increased. But so 
too did the envy of men; some gave it out that he was aiming at the throne, 
because sooner or later, alpha must take precedence over theta. When the 
caesar heard of this, he appeared to shrug off the slander, but he urgently 
entreated the emperor to permit him to renounce the world in favour of the 
monastic life. This the emperor refused to permit for he would not have his 
daughter left a widow; so the caesar went on quietly managing the affairs 
of state. Meanwhile Michael was born to the emperor, and Maria, the 
caesar’s wife, departed this life. So greatly did [her father] revere her that 
her corpse was laid in a casket covered with silver and the right of sanc- 
tuary was accorded to her tomb for men taking refuge there, no matter 
of what [65] they might be accused. As for Alexios, he secretly renounced 
th c wo rid and took the monastic habit. It was only when he could not be 
prevailed upon to reverse his decision that the emperor reluctantly gave 
his permission, granting him the imperial monastery at Chrysopolis for 
a residence, followed by Byrsis’ monastery and the one at Elaias.’ 7 While 

50 At that time Theophilos had five daughters (Thckla, Anna, Anastasia, Maria and Fulcher ia) and 
one son, to whom he had given the imperial name of Constantine but who had died in childhood 
in 835, accidentally drowned in a cistern of the Great Palace, 

51 Maria was not the youngest; Pulcheria was, but maybe she was born after the marriage. 

* Th c first Mosele known to us (also Alexios) was strategos of the Armeniakon theme under Eircnc 
(Pm bZ 193 = PBE Alexios l); he rebelled in 790: Treadgold, Byzantine revival , 289; Maria's hus- 
band ( PmhZ 195 = PBE Alexios 2) may have been his grandson. 

Since the title of caesar was reserved tor members of the imperial family, Theophilos (who at this 
point had no male heir) may have been indicating that he was designating Alexios his successor. 
In 836 Alexios Mosele reconquered the coast between the rivers Nestos and Strymon, thus restor- 
ing to the empire control of the Via Egnatia from Constantinople to Thessalonike. He scored 
numerous successes in Sicily but came short ot expelling the Arabs from the Island: Treadgo Id, 
Byzantine revival, 292, 305—6. 

« lh e initials of Alexios and T heoph ilos. 

^ Michael was born 9 January 840: C, Mango, ‘When was Michael III born? 7 , OOP, 21 (1967), 
253—8, repr. Byzantium and its image (London, 1984), no. xxv. 

* The monastery at Chrysopolis may well be the Philippikos (see below); Byrsis is otherwise 
unknown but there was an Elaias monastery on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporos: [an in, 



Alexios was residing at Chrysopolis, one day when he felt the need to take 
a walk, he found himself in the place called Anthemios. He decided to 
buy the place and, procuring an imperial decree,^ he built a magnificent 
monastery 59 there, in which he spent his last years. When he departed this 
li be, it was in that monastery that he was buried (together with his brother, 
Theodosios the patrician), leaving considerable evidence behind him there 
of his virtuous way of life. 

14. When Imbrael, ruler of the Arabs, campaigned against the Romans, 
not to be outdone Theophilos also went forth, setting all fear aside. 0 He 
would have achieved great things indeed, had he possessed the experience 
in war and the nobility of those who were with him: Tieophobos a nd 
Manuel. Manuel was known for his boldness even to the enemy, for he had 
commanded the army of the Anatolikon theme under Leo and was head 
groom (what they call protostrator) under Michael, Leos predecessor. 

15. This narrative will now show how and under what circumstances 
llieophobos, being of Persian descent, became acquainted with the 
emperor and received his sister in marriage. Some time ago a mem- 
ber of the Persian royal family arrived in the city of Constantine on an 
embassy. He begot [Theophobos] while he was there, not in licit wedlock, 
but secretly and in hiding; then he returned to his own people. Now the 
Persians have an immutable law that no person who is not of the royal fam- 
ily may take command and rule over them. But, on account of frequent 
[66] wars against the Hagarenes, the royal family had died out. There was 
a persisten t rumour in Persia that there lived a [member of that family] by 
th e name of Theophobos at Byzantium; it was spread around by the father 
who had engendered him. The Persian council of elders thought it would 
be a good idea to send some people secretly to search out the man they 
were looking for. They reached our city and, after a great deal of enquiry, 
found him with his mother in the Oxeia. He was made known to and 
recognised by them not only by his features but also by the characteristics 

Constantinople , 28. There is a gentle irony here, that one eon id renounce the world — and receive 
three monasteries. It gives a whole new meaning to aktemosyne (voluntary poverty). 

58 Dolger, Regesteriy no. 440. 

[he Asian suburb known as Ta Anthem iou probably owed its name to the western emperor 
Anthemios. The monastery which Alexios Mosele built here in 840 should be distinguished from 
another monastery of the same name, lying in Constantinople, founded by another Mosele: a 
contemporary of Romanos Lekapenos. 

60 After a long period of preparation Mamun invaded Roman territory in July 830. 

61 Manuel {PmbZ yjoj - PBE Manuel 1) was related to the empress Theodora, her uncle according 
to Theophanes Continuatus , 148. He was already an important person under Michael I (protostra- 
tor) and under Leo V he went on to be strategos of the Armen la kon theme. 1 le fled to the Arabs 
after being accused of treason in 829. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

of his body and soul. And one oi the neighbours attested to the womans 
former liaison with the Persian (for there is no secret which is not common 
knowledge with the masses). The ambassadors now identified themselves 
to the emperor and explained the object of their mission. They promised 
peace, a treaty and the submission of the entire nation ifh e would agree to 
hand Theophobos over to them. The promises were pleasing to the emperor 
so, once he was convinced that they were telling the truth, he received the 
man into the palace, where he had him brought up as a gentleman and 
given a liberal education. 

According to another story, it was not by an ambassador that 
Theophobos was engendered, but (due to the changes and chances of war) 
by the ruler, or one very closely related to the ruler, who had tied from 
Persia and come to the imperial city. Here he lived in penury, working 
fo r a woman who kept a tavern. He fell in love with her and Theophobos 
was born [to her] in legal wedlock. After the father passed from the land 
of the living the Persians learnt of his son by astronomy and divination 
(they say that these arts flourish in Persia). Ihey learnt that he was of the 
royal line and living in Byzantium, whereupon they arrived in haste at 
the city of Constantine, looking for him whom they hoped to find; in 
this way he came to the notice of the emperor. When his distinction was 
made known to all the Persians by the returning ambassadors, everybody 
thought it would be a good idea to rise up in revolt against the Hagarenes 
and to side with the Roman empire, in order to [67] reap the good fortune 
of having a commander of royal blood. And besides all this, it transpired 
that it was now the fifth year since the Persian commander, Babek, had 
rebelled against the Hagarenes with seven thousand men. 6 ' Motivated 
by devotion to Theophobos and fear of the Hagarenes, he advanced into 
Roman territory. He came to the city of Sinope and there he placed him- 
self and all his men under the emperor’s command.' 4 T his led Theophilos 

The two stories of the birth of Theophobos [PmbZ 8237 - PEE Theophobos 1) are of course 
legends* The identification of Nasr with Theophobos is, however, not contested. See M, Rekaya, 
*Mise au point sur Theophobe et I alliance de Babek avec Theophile (833/34 — 839/40)% Byzantion 
(1974), 43-67; also PmbZj 2 .t) = PBEBahak 1. 

With the support of nationalist Iranian elements Babek rebelled against the Abassid Caliphate of 
Baghdad in 816 and held Azerbaijan for some time, causing disturbances as far away as Kurdistan* 
Around 833 another revolt against the Caliphate arose in Iran* in the province of Hamahan, 
around. Nasr the K hurra mite* 

64 It was not Babek, but Nasr (who was not directly related to Babek) who entered Roman terri- 
tory. As the consequence of a severe defeat he took refuge in the empire in 834 with the majority 
of the survivors. Both he and his men converted to Christianity and took Roman wives* Now 
Nasr, become Theophobos fhe who fears God ), entered the imperial family. His soldiers stayed 
together, forming a new unit in the central army* Babek was defeated in 837 and executed in 
January of the following year* 



to advance Theophobos to the rank of patrician and to give him his own 
sister in marriage/’ 5 enjoining each of the Persians (many of them he dis- 
tinguished with imperial honours) to bind himself to the Romans with 
bonds of marriage. He also ordered what he chose to call 'the Persian bri- 
gade’ to be entered in the military registers and to be numbered with the 
Romans who were campaigning against the Hagarenes. 

16. Putting his trust in these two men, Manuel and Theophobos, 
Theophilos went off to war against the Hagarenes. When the armies made 
contact, he held a council. Manuel said it was not befitting for the Roman 
emperor to do battle with the amermoumnes . One of the generals, taking a 
portion of the army, should meet the enemy face to face. But Theophobos 
wanted the emperor to be in the battle line. He advised a night attack on 
the enemy by the infantry, with the cavalry being brought in as and when 
needed. The emperor could not be convinced, it being the case that many 
were saying Theophobos was trying to appropriate for himself the glory of 
the Romans; that was why he was counselling them to fight by night. The 
general opinion was that they should give battle at daybreak. 

Either out of haughtiness or for fear of the emperor, Imbrael, the 
amermoumnes , took a portion of the army and withdrew, sending out one 
of his generals, Abouzachar/’ 7 with eighty thousand men, to carry on the war 
against the emperor. The armies approached each other and there was an 
engagement in which many fell on either side. Finally the regiment of the 
scholai under its domestic [68] wavered and fell back in retreat. The emperor 
with the imperial infantry and two thousand Persians (including Theophobos) 
took his stand on a hillock and was surrounded by Saracens. There was heavy 
fighting around the hillo ck until evening, those on one side hoping to take 
the emperor prisoner, those on the other warding off their attacks and hold- 
ing on to prevent the emperor from being taken. When night had fallen, 

I heophobos deceived the Saracens with a trick; he ordered the soldiers to 
clap and shout, to play their stringed and brass instruments, as though some 
relief column had arrived for them. This is indeed what the Saracens imag- 
ined; they retreated six miles for fear ot being encircled. Taking advantage of 
the brief respite which this afforded, the emperor and those with him took to 
their heels and contrived to find safety with that portion of the army which 
had fled the field. Hie emperor limited himself to scolding the army which 
had abandoned him; he did nothing else unpleasant. But he awarded gifts 
and various honours to those who were with Theophobos. Thus Theophobos 

s In fact Theopho bo s married one of the empress 5 sisters, probably Eirene. 
66 The caliph al-Vliftalim, 833—42. 

lS ■■■' a I - A fsin H a ida r ibn K awiis {Pm bZ i to = PBE A b uc h a za ri). 

7 ° 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

became increasingly popular with the Persians; they requested that it should 
be only they, under his command, who should wage the war against the 
Hagarenes. This, they strongly maintained, the emperor should allow. The 
emperor was so won over by their arguments that he willed no other person 
but Th eophobos to command, them.' 8 

The foil owing year the emperor set out again with the forces and joined 
battle with the Hagarenes near Charsianon, where he put them to flight 
and captured not a few of them. He took twenty-five thousand prisoners 
and returned to the capital in great triumph. 

17. One of the Hagarenes taken prisoner was bold in action and 
renowned for his extraordinary physical powers. He was known to the 
domestic of the scholai, who testified that he was an accomplished horse- 
man; from the saddle he could effectively manipulate two lances at once 
for striking down the enemy. Since it was the duty of the domestic to dir- 
ect the victory celebrations at the Hippodrome, this captive led [69] the 
parade. When the emperor saw him, beguiled by his glowing reputation, 
he ordered him to mount and to be given two lances, so that his excel- 
lence and skill might be demonstrated to the entire city. The exhibition 
took place, to the delight of the less sophisticated. But standing near to 
the emperor was Theodore Krateros, who shortly afterwards became a 
commander of the corps of the holy Forty-two Martyrs. He scoffed at the 
Hagarene, saying that he had demonstrated nothing particularly brave or 
astonishing. The emperor took exception to this: ‘Could you do anything 
like that, you effeminate gelding?’ ‘Having never learnt to operate two 
lances, emperor, I cannot,’ Krateros replied; ‘nor is there any need of such 
foolishness in war. But I have firm trust in God that I could unseat that 
fell ow and knock him down from his horse using only one lance.’ Th is 
made the emperor really angry. He said — and he swore an oath on his own 
head to this effect — that he would put the saint[Ty man] to death unless he 
confirmed his words by deeds. Theodore leapt into the saddle, took a lance 




The incident concerns the battle of Dazimon where Theophilos was in danger of being taken by 
the Arabs, see below, chs. 18 and 23. Skylitzes has failed to distinguish the two actions, which 
throw r s his chronology into disarray. 

In spring 83 t Iheophilos and Manuel (meanwhile returned from Baghdad and pardoned) sur- 
prised and crushed a large body of Arabs in the Armeniakon rheme. The reception of the vic- 
torious emperor (said to have taken 20,000 prisoners ol war) is described in some detail by 
Constantine Porphyrogennetos, Constantine Porphyrogeniius : three treatises on imperial military 
expeditions: introduction # edition , translation and commentary , ed. J. F. Haldon (CFHB, 28, 
Vienna, 1990)* 146—50. 

The Krateroi have already appeared in Skylitzes’ narrative (Reign of Michael II, c\ 18). The com- 
mander of the Kibyrrhaiote theme who failed to take Crete was so named. Yet Theodore, as a 
eunuch, may not have been a member of the family bur rather one of its servants. 

7 1 


and engaged rhe Saracen whom, before very long, he had thrown down 
from his horse. The emperor was chagrined to see the Saracen thrown 
down by a man who was a eunuch. Nevertheless, to please the populace, 
he congratulated him, giving him robes and raiment, thus acknowledging 
the man s sterling qualities. 71 

As spring was now arriving, Theophilos assembled an army again and 
went out against the Saracens. He took the holy Methodios with him, as 
was his custom when he went to war — either for the sake of his learning 
and his ability to solve problems which baffled most men by the wisdom 
he possessed, or to ward off the possibility of an uprising under Methodios > 
leadership on account of the war being waged against the godly and vener- 
able icons. For the man was held in considerable veneration by a select and 
God-fearing element of the populace. This is why the emperor thought it 
disadvantageous to leave him behind. 72 

18. Eventually the two armies fell on each other and the Ishmaelites 
got the upper hand for the time being. The emperor found himself sur- 
rounded and [70] in a very vulnerable position, about to be taken pris- 
oner. When Manuel (who was in command of the army) learnt of this, he 
spurred on his men and boldly charged into the midst of danger, for he 
counted it a terrible thing for a Roman emperor to be taken in battle. He 
found the emperor in a perilous situation, despairing of getting out alive 
and declaring that he did not want to abandon his men by taking to his 
heels. Gome now, emperor,’ he said; Tollow me as I go ahead and fin d the 
way for you.’ Manuel set off, but the emperor was too afraid and did not 
follow, so he was obliged to turn back again. When the emperor missed 
his ch ance again, he came back a third time and threatened him with 
death if he did not follow. It was thus that, very late in the day and w ith 
great difficulty, the emperor was saved. For this, the emperor caused him 
to receive honours commensurate with his service, showering him with 
gifts and addressing him as ‘benefactor’ and ‘saviour’. 73 

19. Jealousy, however, began to develop towards such a man as this and 
he was maliciously charged with high treason. 74 He realised that he was 

7 1 

7 1 



Hi is could be the first mounted joust recorded in the Middle Ages. Sec M. McCormick, Eternal 
victory: triumphal ruler ship in late antiquity Byzantium , and the early medieval west (Cambridge* 
MA* 1986), 148^9. On this occasion Theophilos issued a follis on the reverse of which was 
inscribed: O emperor Theophilos* you are conqueror*. 

The charge against Methodios was that he had announced the death of the emperor in a pamphlet, 
which was certainly a political move. He and other iconodoules were arrested and confined in a 
monastery. This persecution occasioned the death of Euthymios of Sardis* 

This story relers to a later campaign, the one in 838* 

At the beginning of Theophilos* reign Manuel was accused of conspiracy by Myron {PmbZ 5214 = 
PBE Myron 2) who, as logo there of the drome, was responsible for the intelligence service. Skylitzes* 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

standing in very great danger and he was informed that they were going 
to blind him. This intelligence came from a man who was utterly devoted 
to him, a former servant of his, now Theophilos’ wine-pourer. It caused 
him to throw o ffth e imperial yoke and to go over to the Hagarenes. They, 
to whom he seemed to be of great importance, awarded him highest hon- 
ours. He was entrusted with a large army and sent out against some hostile 
neighbours known as the Kormates. 75 It was his will that he should have 
no followers other than the imprisoned Romans to campaign with him. 
He achieved great and glorious victories and even took by storm a place 
called Kh orossan. It was not merely the superior boldness [of his lorce] 
which confused the enemy, but the difference in language, the change in 
uniform and the amazingly unconventional method of giving battle which 
reduced [71] the adversary to unwonted timidity. 

It was not only against the enemy that he displayed his boldness; he 
was courageous [in killing] the wild beasts which were ravaging the coun- 
tryside. Because he was the author of great benefits for the people, he 
was greatly beloved by the ruler of the Saracens and his council of elders. 
When Theophilos learnt of all this, naturally he was not pleased. He left 
no stone unturned in his efforts to recall the man. By the hand of a men- 
dicant monk, he sent him a cross and a chrysobull, inviting him to return 
and granting him a complete amnesty for his misdeeds by these means. 76 
Conveying the things he had received, the monk secretly delivered them 
into the hands of Manuel, whose heart burned within him after receiv- 
ing them. Trading on the confidence his former accomplishments had 
inspired, he let the Saracen ruler know that he cherished a desire of cam- 
paigning against the Romans and of revenging himself on th ose who had 
slandered him before the emperor, dwellers of Cappadocia. 77 He asked 
that the ruler’s son be sent along with him, to add credence to his pro- 
posal. Ishmael acceded to his requests and gave him permission to depart 
on campaign. When Manuel approached the Roman border, he let the 
commander of the Cappadocian theme know who he was and that he was 

sources (Symeon M agister, 220 — t; Leo the Grammarian, 218; Georgias monachos continuatus , 796) 
do not imply any causal connection with the previous episode in the narrative as Sktlitzes does. 

» The Kh urramites oi Babek* Accompanied by AkAbbas, the son oi Ma’mun, Manuel had a certain 
measure oi success against them but he was unable to tree Khorassan (the region to the north oi 
I ra n ) of th ern. 

A chrysobull bearing the emperors autograph signature an d the cross constituted, the most sol- 
emn guarantee oi clemency a rebel could receive* Manuel was appointed domestic oi the scholai 
when he returned* 

Returning via the pass of Adata, Manuel entered the empire in rhe theme of Cappadocia. 


about to return to the Romans. He also intimated that the commander 
should set a detachment in such and su ch a place to lie in ambush, ‘So 
that, when 1 come that way,’ he said, ‘I can send off the Saracen vanguard 
to some other place while I run across to the Roman side.’ And that is 
what happened. As they were approaching the appointed place, the one 
agreed upon, he warmly embraced the son of Ishmael, saying: ‘Go safely 
away to your father, child, for I am going to my lord and emperor,’ He got 
away from there safely, reached the capital and encountered the emperor 
at the church of the Mother of God. at Blachernae. He was honoured with 
the title of magister by him and was thenceforth treated as his kinsman/ 8 
That is what is known of Manuel. 

20. [72] When Theodotos Mehssenos (also known as Kassiteras, as the 
narrative revealed above) was released from this life after occupying the 
patriarchal throne of Constantinople for some considerable time, Jannes, 
the mentor of Theophilos, succeeded him on the throne. He received the 
high priesthood as a reward for impiety and unbelief. 7y 

21. Theophilos was then seeking most diligently to know about those 
who would rule after him. A woman captured among the Hagarenes in 
one of the foregoing wars who was talented for this kind of foretelling came 
before the emperor. He asked what he wished, directing her to proclaim 
in which family there would be a long succession of emperors. Moved 
either by a divine frenzy or by demonic force, she said: ‘O emperor, [your] 
successor will be [your] son together with his mother; but after them, the 
family of the Martinakioi will rule the empire for a long time.’ No sooner 
were the words out of her mouth than he tonsured Martinakios — even 
though he delighted in his company — and turned that man’s house into a 
dwelling place for monks." This is not the only prediction of the woman 
in question, for she foretold many other things that were about to hap- 
pen. She predicted the fall of Jannes from the patriarchal throne; also that 

78 On adoption: R. J. M acrides, ‘Kinship b y arrangement: the ease of adoption*, DOP> 44 (1990), 
109-18, repr. Kinship and justice in Byzantium , nth— 15 th centuries, ed. R, J. Mac rides (Aldershot, 
1999 ). no, II* 

s When Melisseoos died in 821 he was in fact succeeded by Antony Kassimates ( PmhZ 550 = PBE 
Antonios 3), formerly bishop of Sylaion in Pamphylia. It was only on his death in 838 that John 
Moroeharzanes (held to be too young in 821) became patriarch. On John see, among others, S, 
Gero, Joh n the Grammarian, the last iconoclastic patriarch of Constantinople', Byzantina , 3/4 

(19 74—5) > 2 5-35* 

I he founder of the Macedonian dynasty, Basil I* was married ro Eudocia Ingerina, a relative of 
the Martinakioi, a family which appears to have owed its ascent to the accession of Leo V. The 
first known Martinakios is a certain Anastasias who ser ved under that emperor (see The Life of 
Theodore the Stoudite , PG 99: 292, 300)* 

81 On this monastery, situated near the Sophian port: Jan in, Eglises et mona$teres> 1, 328. 

74 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

the sacred icons would receive the honour and reverence which was their 
due. Theophilos was so disturbed at this that he frequently summoned the 
empress and Theoktistos, the logothete of the drome, and bound them 
with terrible oaths neither to deprive fannes of the patriarchate nor to see 
the restoration of the cult of idols (as he called the sacred icons) after his 
death. The woman was not the only one to foretell these things, for Jannes, 
acting as a dish-diviner, 8i clearly showed him who was going to succeed to 
the ofh ce of ruler. Nor did the woman only answer the emperors queries; 
she also indicated to Constantine (who at that time was the most power- 
ful man among the [73] Triphyllioi) 81 what was going to happen to him. 
She said that he and his sons 84 would be deprived of their property and be 
clothed in clerical attire, which indeed happened later on, when Basil had 
taken over as ruler. To George, [logothete of] the stratiotikon, 85 she pre- 
dicted how he would come to his end in the U-turn of the Hippodrome: it 
was there that he was later beheaded, in the reign of Basil, having come to 
grief on a charge of rebellion. 

22. When spring began to lighten the sky the Hagarenes and Theophilos 
sallied forth against each other but, as each was exceedingly cautious 
of the other, they returned with nothing accomplished. On his return, 
Theophilos received an embassy from the Chagan of the Khazars, request- 
ing that the fortress known as Sarkel be built. This seemed to be a sure 
fortification, protecting them from the onslaught of the Patzinaks in 
the region of the river TanaisT The emperor acceded to the request and 
sent out a man named Petronas to accomplish it. When this man came 
back, he gave the emperor his opinion that the only way he could sa fely 
rule Cherson was by appointing somebody there to be its commander. 
Until that time, none of our own people had been sent to command 
there; one of the 1 ocal people, known as the proteuonj 8 used to attend to 

Sl dia lekano-manteias ; this was practised by throwing precious stones and metals into a basin hull of 
water and observing their formation when they reached the bottom. 

^ SisinnSos Triphyllios ( PmhZ 6795 = PBE Sislnnios l) and Nicetas Triphyllios ( PmhZ 5426 = PBE 
Ni ketas 1) were already influential in the time of Nikephoros I; the first of these two lost his life in 
81 1 at the same time as the emperor. 

s+ Cencsios, ed. Lesmueller-Werner and Thu r 11, 3,15* says Constantine (PmhZ 3950 = PBE 
Konstantinos 42) had received honours for his services as an am ha ssador. His son Niketas (Pm bZ 
7261 = PBE Niketas 157) was in charge of an important section of the treasury, the eidikon , 
s - George (PmhZ 2268 - PBE Georgios 230) was logothete of the stratiotikon . According to what 
Genesios says (which is less than clear), he was a brother of Niketas Triphyllios. 

Sphendone , the 'hairpin bend' of the Hippodrome, a frequent place of execution. 

The river Don, 

Literally, 'the first . The city of Cherson long maintained its ancient municipal institutions 
which included a father of the city*, an ekdikos and some curiales known as proteuontesi N. A. 
Alekseenko, 'Newly found seals of the representatives of the city administration of Chersonese s', 





municipal affairs. The emperor accepted his advice; the person he sent out 
to command the district was none other than this same Petronas. He sent 
an ordinance to the proteuon and to the other indigenous potentates com- 
manding them to give unswerving obedience [to the commander]. From 
that time, it was the practice to send commanders to Ch erson . 89 

23. The following year, at the inception of spring, Theophilos went out 
against the Hagarenes in great force and with many troops. He advanced 
[74] deep into Syria, stripping the land bare, pillaging and laying waste 
everything he came across. He took two cities by the rules of war and led 
their citizens captive. He even took by storm the city called Sozopetra ,' 1 
the homeland of the amermoumnes — who sent many letters pleading 
on its behalf. But though he pleaded for his homeland to be spared, the 
emperor paid no attention to his letters . 91 When he had settled things 
there, Theophilos returned to the capital leaving Theophobos behind. His 
orders were to make satisfactory arrangements for the army and then to 
come to the emperor in all haste. But the Persians were exasperated by 
delays in their pay. So they detained him at Sinope and proclaimed him 
emperor, against his will. Indeed, he prayed and besought them to aban- 
don this initiative, warning them that on account of this uprising they 
were exposing themselves to harsher sufferings than ever . 93 As they paid 
no attention to him but were heart and soul completely dedicated to the 
undertaking, he secretly let the emperor know what had happened. He 
gave his assurance with an oath that it was not himself but the Persians 



4 ' 

A 4 AIET, 5 (1996), 155—70 (in Russian); N* A* Alekseenko, 'Les sceaux des proteuontes de Kherson 
au Xe siecle ? ? SBS, 7 (2002), 79-86, 

Hi is whole incident is recorded by Constantine Porphyrogennetos [Constantine Porphyragenitus, De 
a dm i n istra ndo , cd* G. Moravcsik and tr* R* H* J* Jenkins (CFHEG 1, Washington DC, 1967), 183—5)* 
Established on the plains to the north ol the Black Sea, the Khazars maintained a long tradition 
of friendship with Byzantium, to whom they offered a reciprocal alliance against the Moslems of 
Armenia* Petronas, the first Kamateros of whom we know, received orders to proceed to the Khazar 
land with vessels of both the imperial fleet and the Paphlagonian fleet, to build Sarkei at the mou th 
of the Don. The theme ol Cher son, formerly known as the theme of Klimata, was created in 841; C * 
Zuckerman, 1 I wo notes on th e early history of the thema of Chersoff, BMGS 1 21 (1997)* 210—22. 

In spring 837 Theophilos took advantage of the fact that the bulk of the Moslem forces were 
engaged against Bahek. 

A fortress 56 km to the south-west of Mclitcne: F, Hild and M* Res tic, Kappadokia ( Kappadokia t 
Charsianon , Sehasteia und Lykandos) ( 1 IB, 2, Vienna, 1981), 286—7. 

At Mutasim had succeeded his brother in 833; there is no indication that he was born at Sozopetra, 
Tli is legend would have been devised to make the loss oi Amorion (home city of the reigning dyn- 
asty) less excruciating to the Romans by creating the impression that the adversaries dealt ea ch 
ot her hi OW for hi OW. 

The revolt of the Persian soldiers is arrested by other sources hut the chronology is wrong here. Ir 
actually took place alter the del eat at Dazimon when the Persians had every reason to be afraid, 
given their equivocal role in that defeat: J*-C. Cheynet, < Theophile J Theophobe et les Perses\ 
Byzantine Asia Minor, 6 th—ioth centuries (Athens, 1998), 39—50. 

7 6 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

who were responsible for the uprising. 1 he emperor accepted his version of 
the story and summoned him to the palace, restoring his former privileges. 
He also granted a pardon for all the Persians and an amnesty lor their 
misdeeds. 94 The Persians believed his promises and evacuated Sinope; the 
emperor knew he would have to disperse them and not let so large a multi- 
tude stay together. Since the entire host of the Persians amounted to thirty 
thousand men, after caretul thought he transferred two thousand of them 
to each theme, with instructions that they were to be under the orders of 
the commanders. 95 This is because he no longer trusted the Persians and 
why he put I heophobos to death a little later. But there was ano th er rea- 
son for this, which will be revealed in due course. 

The amermoumnes was so wounded in heart by the capture of his 
beloved homeland that he sent out a general decree that men of all ages 
from Babylon, Phoenicia, Palestine, Coelo-Syria and even [75] distant 
Libya were to be assembled, and that every fighting man was to inscribe on 
his own shield the word: ‘Amotion’, signifying the forthcoming attack on 
that city. The entire army was concentrated around him at Tarsus. 97 Then 
Theophilos also advanced; he came to Dorylaion, three days’ journey from 
Amorion. Many were they whose advice was that the troops stationed at 
Amorion be withdrawn and that the Romans retreat before the irresistible 
advance of the Saracens. Th eophilos, however, thought this to be inglori- 
ous and unmanly. He thought a better and more valiant way would be 
further to fortify the city and to preserve it by committing it to the dis- 
cretion of a noble commander. So he despatched the patrician AetiosA 
commander of the Anatolikon theme, with a sufficient force to repulse the 
enemy. He also gave him as army commanders those who would shortly 
die the death of martyrs: Theodore Krateros, Th eophilos, Baboutzikos and 

94 Theophobos had nothing to hope for from such an undertaking; he could not even look for 
Moslem support, given the nature ol his origin* 

" There arc precedents for this practice of dispersing foreigners of dubious loyalty among the 
themes. Slav prisoners were transferred into the themes of Asia VI inor, especially under Justinian 
II: H, Ditten, Ethnische Verschiehungen zwischen der Balkanhalbinsel und Kleinasien vom Ende des 
6 * bus zur zweiten Halfte des <?, Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1993), 217—19. The numbers given by Skylitzes 
and found in his sources arc too high* In spite of what W* Tread go Id says {Army, 69), it is unlikely 
that such a dispersion took place because it is known that Theophobos fell at the head of his 
troops some years later. 

After spending some years pacifying his empire and once Babek was executed, A 1 Mu tasim 
addressed himself to the great offensive against the infidel, as was the duty of a caliph* The 
expedition of 838 was the last one to be led by a caliph in person. 

Tarsus, chief fortress of Cilicia and seat of an emir, was (together with Melkene) the traditional 
base from which Arab raids into Roman territory were launched: F* Hild and H* Hellenkemper, 
Kilikien und Laurien (TIB, 5, Vienna, 1990), 428—39* 

98 PrnbZ 108 = PEE A et 1 o s 2 . 



the others." These were not only commanders of that expeditionary force, 
but also of the corps of the Forty-two Martyrs. 

When the Saracen ruler found himself with all his hosts at Tarsus, 
having consulted with his colleagues and taken the auspices, he judged it 
inexpedient to go directly to Amorion, but better first to test the emperor’s 
strength by sending out his son with a portion of the army. His thin k- 
ing was that it the son got the better of the emperor, victory would surely 
follow for the father. If the son failed, it were better to stay where he was. 
Having considered that advice and come to this decision, he despatched 
his son, who took with him Amr, the then emir of Melitene, 101 ten thou- 
sand Turks, the entire army of the Armenians and their commander-in- 
chief. He pitched camp when he came to a place called Dazimon. 
The ophilos advanced to meet him, leading a valiant army consisting 
of Persians, westerners and easterners. When he reached a place called 
Anzes, he wanted to spy upon the gathered host of the enemy to judge 
its strength before the battle and the attack. Manuel, the domestic of the 
scholai, [j6] brought him to a high point from which he observed the 
enemy host and concluded that the Saracen forces were superior to his 
own. ‘Look not upon the number of the men, O emperor,’ said Manuel, 
‘but notice how the lances of each side bristle like reeds .’ 104 But since 
the adversaries seemed to constitute the stronger army, it was his advice 



10 1 




Treadgold, Byzantine revival , 298, thinks Theodore Krateros (the eunuch who distinguished 
himself before Theophilos by unhorsing the Hagarene ol two lances, c, 17 above) was command- 
ing the Hikanatoi whereas Vasillev says he was strategos of the Boukellarioh Skylkzes says he 
commanded the corps of the Forty-two Martyrs at one time but it really is not known what 
his command was now. Treadgold, Byzantine revival „ 298, suggests that rhis Theophilos was 
commanding the imperial unit known as the Exkoubitai. The Baboutzikoi were related to the 
emperor Theophilos: note Constantine Baboutzikos (below) who was married to Sophia, sister 
of the empress Theodora, 

The story of this campaign and the strategy adopted is reported by a number of Arab sources, 
Tab ari among them: A* A* Vasiliev, Byzance et les Arabes y II Les relations politiques de Byzance et 
des A rabes a Lepoque de la dynastic macedonienne , ed, M. Ca nard (CBHB, 2, 1, Brussels, 1968) 1, 
137—43 and Treadgold, Byzantine revival^ 297—305. 

'Umar, emir of Melitene ( PmbZ 8552 = PBE Amr 3) was the most formidable of the empire's foes 
until his death in 863. 

Arch on ton archonton , literally 'chief of chiefs': this is the first mention of this title given to the 
lead! ng Armenian Christian by the Moslems (still masters of Armenia) who thus recognised his 
pre-eminence over his equals and made him responsible for leading his fellow countrymen into 

Dazimon was one of the aplekta , camps where troops assembled when the emperor was setting 
out on campaign. In the list given in De Caeerimoniis , Dazimon in the Armeniakon theme comes 
sixth after Malagina, Dorylaeon, Kahorkin, Colonea and Caesarea: J. F, Haldon, Constantine 
Porphyrogenitus , three treatises in imperial military expeditions (CFHB, 28, Vienna, 1990), 81. 

M anuel was trying to use an objective criterion to estimate the strength of the armies: the distance 
separating the individual lances in each battle line, assuming that one lance meant one soldier. 

7 § 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

that an attack should be launched using trickery. Manuel, together with 
Theophobos, was in favour of a night attack but the rest of the command- 
ers thought the attack should take place in daytime; the emperor came 
round to their way of thinking. 

Since this was then the prevailing opinion, fierce fighting broke out at 
daybreak. The imperial units fought so vigorously that the Ishmaelites 
wavered and took to their heels. But by incessant use of their bows, the 
Turks deterred the Romans from pursuing them, which caused the bat- 
tle to take on a different character. Unable to withstand the continuous 
hail of Turkish arrows, the Romans did an about-turn and abandoned 
the emperor. But neither the officers of the units nor the Persians permit- 
ted themselves such behaviour: they rallied around the emperor and made 
vigorous efforts to save him. They would all have been destroyed too, but 
as night fell a light rain began to fall from the sky, causing the enemies’ 
bowstrings to slacken. This gave the Romans a respite from the arrows and 
a chance to get away. 

During the night, while Manuel was inspecting the guard posts, he 
heard the Persians, speaking in the Saracen tongue, making an agree- 
ment with the Saracens to betray the Roman encampment and to return 
to their native land. This information he immediately communicated to 
the emperor, urging him to flee to safety with a body of picked men, not 
waiting to be taken captive. ‘How can I do that,’ the emperor replied, 
when those who remain on my account will be destroyed?’ Manuel 
insisted: ‘To you alone [77] it is granted by God, O emperor, to reach 
safety; those will surely look to their own interests.’ So, late in the night, 
towards morning, the emperor fled and reached safety at a place ca lied 
Chil iokomon; ' th ere he was met by the deserters, declaring that they 
were unfit to live for having abandoned the emperor in the battle, where- 
upon each man offered to surrender his sword. The sight of this pierced 
the emperor to the heart. ‘Since, by the grace of God I got safely away, do 
you also go your way in safety,’ he declared. The collusion of the Persians 
with the Sons of Hagar gave the enemies of Theophobos (who had chosen 
to bring about his death) a second reason and an excellent opportunity 
for denouncing him. 

When the amermoumnes heard of the victory, he concluded that he 
should advance on Amorion without delay. Having gathered his own 

105 The battle was fought on 22 July 838 (A* A* Vasil iev Byzance et lesArabes , t: La dynastie dAmorium , 

820 — 867 , VL Canard (Brussels, 1935), 156) and the turnaround is confirmed by other sources* 
Jo6 A plain lying to the north of Amasea. 



army together and indicated to his son that he should do likewise, forth 
he went. 07 When the armies were met together they set up a strong line 
of fortification. The city was surrounded with a deep ditch then subjected 
to a vigorous and energetic siege. The Turks made constant use of th eir 
bows; the Saracens brought their siege-engines right up to the walls. Yet 
the beleaguered Romans within put up a determined and heroic struggle, 
easily beating back the engines. 

While the unrelenting and incessant siege of the city was being pros- 
ecuted without interruption, Theophilos (who only just managed to get 
away from the disaster) arrived in D orylaeon. There he stayed, waiting to 
see what the outcome would be. He tried the temper of the mind of the 
amermoumnes to see whether he could dissuade him from continuing the 
siege. Ambassadors were sent to intercede with him; off they went loaded 
with rich gifts and empowered to give serious undertakings. They reached 
the Saracen encampment, came before the ruler and declared what mes- 
sages the emperor had entrusted to them. But the ruler had fallen into a 
blind rage because of the capture of his homeland. He heaped insults on 
the emperor for his cowardice; he belittled and derided the embassy and 
clapped the ambassadors in irons, waiting to see what the outcome of the 
matter would be. Now he intensified the siege: [78] he divided the army 
into several companies so they could attack in relays. The intent was that 
th ose within the walls, weary from the regularity and the intensity of the 
alternating attacks and the endless effort required of them, would eventu- 
al ly surrender. But the beleaguered ones continued to ward off the attacks 
and all the efforts of the besiegers achieved nothing. The city would have 
escaped capture too had not one of those within betrayed and handed 
over his homeland on account of some quarrel or other. This man (his 
name was Boiditzes) had been corrupted with gifts and had abjured the 
Christian faith. Being in secret communication with the Saracens, he 
showed them a place in the wall where they would find easy access when 
launching their attacks; and that is how the city came to be captured. Since 
it was taken under the rules of war, what account co uld suffice to declare 
the multitude of the slain and of the prisoners? Ihe Saracens were beside 
themselves with anger because so many of their illustrious soldiers had lost 
their lives during the siege; hence, they showed no mercy to those whom 
they encountered. The men were slain, the women were led away captive 
together with their children and youths; the finest of the buildings were 


The Arabs took Ankyra on their way (Vasiliev and Canard, i, 159)* This was the usual residence of 
the strategos of the Boukellarioi theme but it was abandoned by its inhabitants. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

put to the flames. 1 In a very short time that most distinguished of eastern 
cities had taken on the appearance of a deserted ruin. Also taken alive 
were the officers of the army corps: the patricians Kallistos, 109 Constantine 
and Theodore Krateros and many other illustrious commanders," distin- 
guished by the highest honours. 

When the city was safely in his hands, the Saracen ruler forced each 
of the ambassadors to inspect what had been done there, as though he 
revelled and delighted in those deeds. Then he sent them back so they 
could themselves announce the disaster to the emperor. For his part, he 
promptly returned them to the amermoumnes with a request that the per- 
sons of note taken captive in the siege be handed over to him, together with 
his relatives and all the other prisoners. He promised to pay twenty-four 
kentenaria in ransom money for them. 111 [79] J he amermoumnes received 
the embassy and again he sent the ambassadors packing, heaping insults 
on them. Would it not be senseless if he, who had disbursed a thousand 
kentenaria to assemble his own army, were to hand back the prisoners for 
so small a sum? 

24. When the ambassadors returned empty-handed, Theophilos 
was dumbfounded by the overwhelming magnitude of the disaster. He 
rejected all food and drink and almost took no nourishment, except water 
squeezed out from snow; then he fell sick with dysentery. Even when he 
fell into that pitiful state he did not calm down, nor was he able to take 
the catastrophe of Amorion with equinanimity. He sought for an occa- 
sion and manner of revenging himself on his enemy. Thus, he sent the 
patrician Theodosios, a member of the Baboutizikoi family, to the king 
of the Franks " to ask for some aid to be sent to him; also for a fighting 

103 The siege lasted from I to 12 August S3 8; the Life of Theodora {BUG 1731, ed* A* Markopoulos, 
Symmeikta , 5 (Athens, 1983), 249-85), reproduced in Markopoulos, History , no, V, and George 
the Monk, 797, give 15 August as the day on which the fortress fell, 

103 This man ( PmbZ 3606 = PS£Kallistos 2) belonged to the illustrious family ol the MelissenoL I le 
was not captured at Amorion but in a separate action, he being then strategos of Koloneia. 

110 Th e se are numbered among the forty- two martyrs of Amorion who were executed on 6 March 
845. Euodios the monk wrote the narrative of this collective martyrdom shortly after the event 
(the last of its kind)* Euodios also narrates the siege and capture oi Amorion: see A* Kazhdan, 
‘Hagiographical notes', Byz&ntion , 56 (1986), 150—60; A. Kolia-Demirtzaki, e Thc execution of 
the forty-two martyrs of Amorion: proposing an interpretation, AlMasdq , , 14/2 (2002), 141—62, 
gives all the recent bibliography; suggests the tardiness o f th e execution can be explained by the 
internal situation of the caliphate* 

1 Other sources say two hundred kentenaria * 

I he sum of 7*2 million pieces of gold is surely excessive, Treadgold, Army, 189, demonstrates that 
at that time a campaign would cost about 0.2 million pieces of gold, What is certain is that the 
Abassid caliphate, then at the apogee of its fortunes, could raise more money and men than the 
empire was capable of raising* 

1T1 Loth air, son of Louis the Pious who had died in 840* 



force to be despatched to ravage certain parts of Africa belonging to the 
amermoumnes. But this embassy achieved nothing, for Theodosios died on 
the journey. Disappointed in this hope and more severely oppressed by his 
illness, Theophilos had himself brought on a stretcher into the Magnaura, 
where he had assembled the senate and the rest of the eminent citizenry. In 
doleful tones he recited and lamented his woes, beseeching the assembled 
company graciously to honour his memory by keeping faith and dealing 
kindly with his wife and son, preserving the throne for them, unassailed by 
any conspiracy. The assembly was deeply touched by the emperor’s path- 
etic words; groaning and wailing arose on all sides. Everybody interceded 
with the Deity, praying for the emperors health and life. And if he should 
[80] die (which they certainly did not wish to happen), they undertook to 
surrender their lives if necessary for his lady wife their empress and the 
children, to keep the throne secure for them. That is what they promised; 
shortly afterwards, completely consumed by his illness, the emperor paid 
the debt which all must pay, having governed the empire for twelve years 
and three months. 14 

25. As the narrative related, Hieophobos’ accusers acquired grounds 
on which to proceed against him in the way mentioned above. When 
Theophilos realised that his end was near, he cast [Theophobos] into the 
darkest of dungeons, at the Boukoleon. Then, when he was about to die, 
he ordered them to cut off the man’s head and bring it to him. When he 
received it, he seized it by the hair with his hands and uttered his last 
words: ‘From this moment, I am no longer Theophilos and you are no 
longer Theophobos.’ I? There are those who accuse Ooryphas, then droun- 
garios of the watch, of slaying Theophobos; they say that he received no 
orders, but acted on his own authority. 

114 Theophilos died of dysentery on 20 January 842. 

"5 ih is is probably a legend bur there is nevertheless a certain logic in it: aware that there is about 
to be a regency, the dying emperor removed, those influential people of whose loyalty he was less 
than sure. According to the Moslem historians, however, Theophobos-Nasr had already fallen 
in 838—9 at the head ol a troop oi Khorramites under his command (Vasiliev and Canard, I, 


16 MS E adds: The emperor Theophilos reigned for twelve years and twenty days. He came to power 
on 2 October and died on the 22nd oi the same month. He was buried in the chu rch of the Holy 
Apostles in the Hero&n of Justinian, in a green sarcophagus. (Others gave the same incorrect date 


Michael III, the son of Theophilos [842— 867], 
and his mother Theodora [842—862] 

1. [8t] After Theophilos had departed this life it was his son, Michael, 
who, together with his mother, Theodora, succeeded to the sceptre of the 
empire. He had the m agister Manuel 2 (then domestic of the scholai) and 
Theoktistos the patrician (logothete of the drome) as his guardians and 
tutors, just as his father had stipulated in his will. Immediately after the 
death of Theo philo s, these two got themselves away to the Hippodrome 
where they assembled the people and delivered speeches recalling to their 
minds the benevolence of the late emperor towards them. By using encour- 
aging and flattering words, they were able to elicit the goodwill of the 
audience, the people promising to pour out their own blood for the safety 
of the emperor and confirming this promise with oaths there and then . 4 

2. Once Theodora was in control of the empire (together with her son), 
immediately and first of all, at the suggestion of some God-fearing men, she 




Manuscript E adds 'said to be the drunkard'. 

According to one tradition Manuel died of his wounds five days after the battle of Dazimon; 
according to another (Genesios, Theophanes Continuatus) he survived nearly twenty years, 
IL Cregoire lias shown that the second tradition was published in the tenth century by monks of 
the monastery founded by Manuel who did not want their founder to be considered one of the pil- 
lars of iconoclasm: H. Gregoire, "Manuel et Theophobe* ou la concurrence de deux monasteres\ 
B y 9 (1934), 198—204, In fact the second powerful figure in the regency was the magister Sergios 
Nikctiatcs (. PmbZ 6664 = PBE Sergios 57), a relative of Theodora, maybe her maternal uncle. This 
list is incomplete because a little later Skylitzes mentions Theodora’s brother Bardas as one o f the 
epitropoi of Michael III, 

Michael {PmbZ 4991 = PBE Michael 11) was too young to reign, born on 19 January 840. Theophilos 
prov ided for a regency council during his minority with the empress presiding. Contrary to nor- 
mal procedure, there seems to have been no provision made for the participation of the patriarch, 
the faithful John the Grammarian ("Jannes'^tv Skylitzes). 

Although oaths were forbidden by the church, emperors did demand them when they were unsure 
of the loyalty of their subjects: N, Svoronos, Te serment de fidelite a hemp ere ur byzantin et sa 
signification eonstitutionelle', REB, 9 (1951), 106—42. 

Skylitzes fails to mention that Ihekla, the eldest of Michael's sisters, shared the purple at least 
until 845, She appears on both gold and silver coins (DOC, m/i: 461—2), Her presence eou Id be 
explained by Theodora's concern to ensure the survival of the dynasty which now depended on a 
two -year- old child. 


Michael III and Theodora 


closely examined the matter of the heresy of the enemies of the icons. This 
was widespread among the Romans from the reign of Leo the Armenian 
until the death of Theophilos. Theoktistos was in favour of its suppression 
but Manuel held back for some time; nobody dared to speak out boldly and 
make a speech expressly calling for the abolition of this heresy" because the 
greater part of both the senate and the synod (including the patriarch him- 
self) remained faithful to it. Manuel alone, prompted by divine [82] inter- 
vention, was bold enough to make the move. As we said above, he hesitated 
at first on the question of devotion to the most sacred icons, but he subse- 
quently proclaimed himself in favour of it: here is the reason why. 7 

He had fallen dangerously ill to the point that his life was despaired 
of; the doctors’ skills had been exhausted. Hearing that he was already 
dead, some pious monks of Stoudios’ monastery came to him. As they 
approached his bed, they realised that he was still alive and breathing. 
Whereupon, they promised him his life, a recovery and the restoration of 
his former health. He was incredulous at first, but the men of God insisted 
that he should have no doubt about the divine power which had revealed 
the matter to them. His illness had abated a little and he said to them with 
a weak and feeble breath: And how can this be for me, godly fathers? My 
mental forces are all gone, my body is wasted away and emaciated. Here I 
lie, devoid of flesh, a mere skeleton; there is no difference between me and 
a corpse, except that I am breathing. What hope is there, what reason to 
believe in my recovery and a return to my former health?’ The holy men 
took up the argument and said to him: ‘With God, all things are possible 
and there is nothing that is impossible. We proclaim the good news that 
you will live, provided that you endeavour to extinguish the conflagration 
the enemies of the icons have ignited when you recover your strength, and 
that you restore the sacred icons to the status they enjoyed in the time of 
our forefathers.’ Thus they spoke, then went their way. Amazingly, and 
contrary to all expectation, for Manuel the illness now abated; the natural 
forces were restored unimpaired and, in a short time, he recovered com- 
pletely from his sickness. 

Happily released from illness, he immediately went (on horseback) to 
the palace. Coming into the presence of the empress, he tried every means 

* The synod had been purged ol its iconodule elements under Theophilos, while in the senate, con- 
sisting as it did for the most part ol senior civil servants appointed by the emperor, iconoclasts 
were in the majority. 

I his episode is crucial to the fabrication of the legend ot Manuel since it transforms the domestic 
ol the scholai into a fervant iconodule. 

s The cho ice ol S tou die s is not unintentional. The monks ol this monastery had followed the advice 
ol Theodore, their hegoumenos, and were once again at the point of going to battle for the icons. 

8 4 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

to persuade her (she was already casting about for a pretext to do so) to 
restore the sacred icons. She was constantly being incited to do this by her 
own mother and also by her maternal uncles, the patricians.' 1 Nevertheless, 
Theodora resisted Manuel s arguments, either out of respect for the oaths 
she had sworn to her late husband, or because, as we said, she feared the 
multitude of those w ho firmly adhered to the heresy. When Manuel per- 
sisted, [83] Theodora replied: ‘O magister, my late husband, the emperor, 
a stickler for precision, never did a thing in all his life without ca ref ul 
examination of the matter. If this practice [of revering the icons] were not 
forbidden in the sacred laws and the holy scriptures, he would not have 
expelled it from the church.’ When she had said this, he lost no time in 
threatening her with the loss of her life and of the throne (her and her 
son too) unless she restore the godly decoration of the sacred icons to the 
churches. Terrified by these words (or, in our opinion, following her own 
desires), the empress now gave her full support to the matter. She directed 
that all those who were distinguished by intelligence and learning, mem- 
bers of senate or synod, were to assemble in the palace of llieoktistos to 
discuss and debate the question of orthodoxy. Everybody (so to speak) 
gathered there; a great number of speeches were made, a multiplicity of 
attestations from the holy scriptures was produced and the party o) god- 
liness carried the day. A decree went out for the immediate restoration of 
the sacred icons. Of th ose bishops, monks and senators who had sub- 
scribed to the former disorder, the majority chose the better part and 
changed their opinions in favour of the truth. As for those who were so 
deeply dyed with the tincture of godlessness that they co uld not eh ange, 
they were driven from the city and sent Into exile. The impious patriarch 
was deposed and expelled from the patriarchate by a contingent of high- 
ranking men charged with the security of the palace. 

At first he refused their demands that he get out, assuring them that he 
would never willingly leave that church. They returned to the empress who 
had sent them and reported his disobedience. Then the patrician Bardas, 
the empress’ brother, was sent, to find out why, since he was not o f the 
orthodox faith, he would not abandon the patriarchate. [84] But Jannes 

9 Theokdste, the mother of Iheodora, was an avowed ico nodule, 

J ' The re-establishment of orthodoxy took place between 4 and 11 March 843* The synod reinstated 
the canons of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II): J* Gouillard, Le Synodikon de 
rOrthodoxie: edition et commentaire/ TM* 2 (1967), 120C 
IT Such toleration on the part of the patriarch was justified by the number of former iconoclasts and 
the need to re-establish the unity of the church. G* Dagron, H i stair e du christianisme , IV, Eviques, 
moines et empereurs (610—iojjX under the direction of G* Dagron, P. Riche and A. Vauchez (Paris, 
I993)> 159— 

Michael III and Theodora 


was a knavish fellow, cunning both in writing and in devising deceits if 
anyone ever was. He marked his front, his back and his backside all over 
with lead, as though some people had been whipping him. Then he cried 
out that it was at the hands of those sent [to expel him] that he had suf- 
fered; that they had laid it on with barbarous cruelty and that the worst 
offender was Constantine, droungarios of the watch, 12 He asked to be 
allowed a little time for his marks to disappear, as a consolation. So much 
for J annes; but Bardas' 4 had tumbled to his mischievous device and he 
became very angry. He simply drove [Jannes] from the patriarchate, willy- 
nilly. Once he was deposed, in his stead the empress gave the church the 
sacred and godly Methodios as patriarch, a man who still bore in his flesh 
the marks of having been a confessor and martyr. All the pious clergy, 
laity and monks, those too who led the ascetic life in the mountains, they 
all applaucied his elevation with great rejoicing. Ihey congregated in the 
capital and with one voice condemned the heresy with an eternal anath- 
ema. Such then were the reforms which were effected at the beginning of 
the reign by the ever-memorable llieodora and her son. 

3. As for the unholy Jannes, he was shut up in a monastery and some- 
where there he saw an icon set up; it showed Christ our God, the Mother 
of God and the Archangels. He ordered his personal deacon to climb up 
and put out the eyes of the sacred pictures, for (he said) they did not have 
the faculty of sight.' 7 When the devout and Sovereign Lady heard of this, 
burning with godly zeal, she ordered his eyes to be put out. This did not 
happen because certain kindly disposed persons interceded for him, but 
she dispatched some guards to punish him with two hundred lashes. 

Jannes was a product of this great city which takes precedence over all 
oth ers, a scion of the Morocharzianoi family. [85] He was already some- 
what advanced in years when the monastery of the victorious martyrs, 
Sergios and Bacchus, 1 got him as hegoumenos (like a serpent lurking in 


Constantine was of Armenian origin and., according to Leo the Grammarian (236), was called 
Maniaces {PmbZ 3962 = PEE Bardas 5), He had Keen sent to ih eophilos as a hostage. He became 
droungarios of the wa tch under Michael III whom he protected during the troubles consequent 
upon the murder of the caesar Bardas. According to Genesios (4.3)? who claimed to be a descend- 
ant of this man, he was by then commanding th e corps of the hxkoubitae. 

John the Grammarian* 

In fact Bardas {PmbZ 791 = PBE Bardas 5) played a minor role during his sister’s regency. 

1? Methodios who, together with Euthymios of Sardis, his spiritual father, had suffered grave 
mistreatment under Michael II and Theophilos, acceded to the patriarchal throne on 4 March 
843: Dagron, Histoire du christianisme , 157— 8 and note 282. 

:fl An oblique reference to Heb. 11:38, 

17 Ps. 113:13, Septuagint. 

Ibis monastery, founded by Justinian, the church of which still exists, was in the suburb of 
Hormisdas: Jan in, Eghses et monasteres 1, 451—4. John became hegoumenos there in the time of 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

the church!). This firm adherent of the godless heresy of the enemies of the 
icons had ascended the ecclesiastical ladder rather quickly. A lifelong adept 
in wizardry and dish-divining, T he was held in high esteem by Michael 
the Stammerer, the father of Theophilos. Either because they shared the 
same heretical opinions or on account of the great reputation he had. for 
learning, Jannes became tutor to Theophilos. When the son took the reins 
of power into his own hands, he promoted him to be protosynkellos and, 
subsequently, patriarch of Constantinople. This was because, by dish-di- 
vining and wizardry, he had been able to fore tell some things. 

There was a time when an unbelieving and barbarous people led by three 
commanders were invading Roman lands. 10 Not surprisingly, Theophilos 
was distressed, but Jannes exhorted him to put away his faint heart and to 
be filled with gladness — he need only pay heed to [the patriarch’s] advice. 
This is what he advised: among the bronze statues set up on the Euripos 
of the Hippodrome there was one standing there (he said) representing [a 
figure with] three heads. jannes now ordered an equal number of bronze 
hammers to be cast. These were to be taken in hand by three robust men 
who were to accompany him to the aforesaid statue by night. At his com- 
mand, they were to strike the heads mighty blows with their hammers 
until the heads fell to the ground, as though they had been dealt a blow 
at one and the same time. Finding this proposal acceptable, the emperor 
ordered it to be carried out. When the men came w Ith Jannes to that place 
at the darkest time of night (Jannes was in lay-clothing to escape recog- 
nition), he uttered the magic words designed to remove the innate power 
from statues of that kind; then he ordered the men to strike with youth- 
ful vigour. [86] Two of them, striking more forceful blows, succeeded in 
removing two of the statue’s heads, but the third, striking less forcefully, 
made the head hang down a little, but did not sever it completely from 
the body. What happened to the leaders of the barbarians was similar to 
this. A great uprising took place among that invading people followed by 
civil war, in the course of which two of the leaders fell and the third was 

Leo V as a reward for his support for the emperor’s iconoclastic policy. Thus it was in his youth, 
not in his old age, that he presided over this monastery* 

19 Lecanomancy was practised by throwing precious stones and objects of gold and silver into a basin 
filled wi th water rhen observing the pattern I'ormed when they sank to the bottom. 

10 Po ssibly the campaign of 838. 

1C According to De Cer , this was the line which marked the outer limit of the course: R. Guilland, 
Etudes de topographie de Constantinople byzantine (Amsterdam, 1969), 1, 445—7. 

22 This could be the celebrated serpentine column which came from the temple of Apollo at Delphi 
where it had been erected after the victories of Salamis and Plataea. Hi is mutilation on the order 
of John is, however, very dubious because Peter Gylles claimed to have seen that monument intact 
in 1540: R* Janin, Constantinople byzantine (AOC\ 4A, Paris, 1964), 191* 

Michael III and Theodora 87 

wounded; not mortally, but enough to invalidate him. Thus crippled, that 
people went back home. So much for wizardry. 

4. This wizard had a uterine brother of patrician rank whose name was 
Arsaber. ; He possessed an estate on the left bank of the straits (close to 
the monastery of St Phokas) built in a luxurious style with arcades, bath- 
ho uses and other charming pavilions. The wizard was a frequent resident 
there and there he constructed an underground dwelling similar to the 
cave of Trophonios. 24 To the rear he made a doorway affording access to 
those who would enter; it was in that workshop of iniquity that he received 
those who were willing. Sometimes nuns were kept there to be coupled 
with, or other women distinguished by their beauty in whose ruin he par- 
ticipated; sometimes heptoscopy, 25 dish-divining, magic and necromancy 
were practised there, by which (with the cooperation oi demons) he was 
often able to foretell some of the things that were going to happen. This 
property later came into the hands of the chamberlain, 26 who razed it to 
the ground and transformed it into a monastery bearing the name of the 
great martyr Phokas. 17 

As we said, [Jannes] and his partisans were cast out and deposed but 
even then they did not keep quiet; they still raged against the holy icons 
and sought to do some mischief to the devout. They pieced together a 
false accusation against Methodios in an attempt to bring that blame- 
less man into disrepute and thus to [87] demoralise the multitude of the 
orthodox. They corrupted a woman with a large amount of gold and 
promises if she would fall in with their plans; she was in fact the mother 
of Metrophanes, who subsequently became bishop of Smyrna. They 
persuaded her to denounce the holy man before the empress and the 
emperor’s tutors, saying that he had consorted with her. 29 An awesome 

2 ’ As Skylitzes reports below (c. n) Arsaber ( PmbZ 602 = PBE Ar saber 5) owed his high rank of patri- 
cian to his marriage with Maria, the empress* sister (PmbZ 4738 = PBE Kalomaria 1). He adds that 
the man was eventually promoted magister, adding an acknowledgement of his bravery. 

24 An underground sanctuary in Boeotia, frequented by those in search of oracles into Roman times, 
Trophonios is alleged to have been the architect ol the temple of Apollo at Delphi, Together with 
his brother he attempted to steal some treasure, which resulted in them being swallowed up by 
the ground. 

25 Litera "yd inspecting livers 5 . 

1(1 Parakoimomenos , the future emperor Basil I: Jheophanes Continuatus , ed< Bekker, 157, 

17 On the European bank of the Bosporos, today Ortakoy: Janin, Eglises et monasteres, 1, 498, 
lS Metrophanes ( PmbZ 4 986 = PBE Metrophanes 1) was among the most belligerent supporters 
of IgnatioSj playing a distinguished role in the synod which deposed Photios in 869: Dagron, 
Histoire du christianisme , 170, 178, 181. 

19 The opposition to Methodios came not only from unrepentant iconoclasts, but also from rigorists 
who resented his conciliatory attitude to those who had abandoned iconoclasm. The anecdote of 
the woman’s accusation does not even appear in the Vita Methodii, BHG lijS. 


John Skylitzes : a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

tribunal was immediately constituted, of laymen and clerics. The devout 
were in evidence, cast down in grief and sorrow — while the impious, far 
from absenting themselves, were there in force, thinking that, as a conse- 
quence of the affair, the church of the orthodox was about to be plun ged 
into unusual and severe disgrace. The false accusers were very confident, 
with broad grins on their faces, as though they had the means of making 
sure the accusation would be upheld. They led the woman into the midst 
[of the assembly], where she spoke the words she had been taught to say 
before the judges. The members of the court gave black looks, the magister 
Manuel most of all, at the prospect of the entire orthodox community 
being in danger of becoming the laughing stock of its enemies on one 
mans account. The holy Methodios was aware of all this. Wishing to frus- 
trate the hopes of the godless, to relieve the devout of the burden of shame 
and to ensure that he not be a stone of stumbling* 0 to the church, without 
paying any attention to the crowd he shook off his garments, and this man 
who was worthy of all respect and honour exposed his private parts to the 
gaze of all the onlookers. It was now revealed to everybody that [his geni- 
tals] were atrophied by some disease and totally incapable ol performing 
their natural function. This greatly dismayed those who rejoiced in ini- 
quity and the false accusers, but it filled the devout with gladness of heart 
and rejoicing. They rushed upon him with uncontainable glee, embracing 
and hugging him; they simply were unable to control their excessive joy. 
One of his closer friends came up to him and quietly questioned the patri- 
arch, wishing to know how it came about that his genitals were withered 
away. In reply, the latter explained the matter from the very beginning: T 
had been sent to the pope in Rome in connection with the proceedings 
w hich h ad been instituted against Nikephoros, that most holy patriarch. 51 
While I was staying there, I was harassed by the demon of [88] fleshly de- 
sire. Night and day, day after day, it never stopped titillating me and in- 
citing me to the desire for sexual congress. I was so inflamed that I knew it 
was nearly all over for me, so I entrusted myself to Peter, the chief apos tie, 
begging him to relieve me of that Heshly appetite. Coming to me by night, 
he burned my genitals by applying his right hand to them, assuring me 
that henceforth I would no longer be troubled by the appetite for carnal 
delight. Awakening in considerable pain, I found myself in the condition 
■which you have witnessed.’ 

i Pet. 2:8. 

Methodios came to Rome after Leo V proclaimed iconoclasm to be the official doctrine of 
the church. It would appear that the patriarch Nikephoros, forced to resign and exiled in Slj, 
appea led to the pope, protesting against this replacement. 

Michael III and Theodora 


Manuel would not believe what the patriarch had said; suspecting a 
conspiracy, he handed the woman over for examination to get to the bot- 
tom of the crafty scheme. They immediately brandished a sword in her 
face and brought out the barbed rods while experienced torturers were to 
hand. Terrified by all this, the wretched creature let the truth be known. 
Sh e explained how the machination had been contrived; how she had 
herself been corrupted with a gift of gold and many promises; who the 
active agents were and, in short, the complete knavery of the affair. She 
added that if somebody went to her house, he would find the gold in a 
pouch in a chest filled with grain. One of the bodyguards was immedi- 
ately dispatched; he returned with the gold and thus the entire affair stood 
revealed. Ihe false accusers would have been handed over to be punished 
accordingly, but the patriarch, imitating his own Lord, had the forbear- 
ance to request that the charges be stayed. He asked that their only retribu- 
tion and punishment should be that, each year, at the feast of orthodoxy, 
they should process with lights from the church of the all-pure [Mother 
of God] at Blachernae to the sacred church of the Holy Wisdom, there to 
hear the anathema with their own ears; this procedure was maintained for 
the rest of their lives. 

5. Such was the way in which the heresy of the enemies of the icons was 
terminated while the church of the orthodox resumed its proper embel- 
lishment with the restoration of the sacred icons. 31 Once when she was 
celebrating this least of orthodoxy, [89] that blessed empress gave a banquet 
for all the clergy in the palace at the place called Ta KarianouT Present 
among the guests were Theophanes and his brother, Theodore, the grap- 
toic 4 As the banquet was drawing to a close and the desserts were being set 
out, cakes and pastries, the empress repeatedly glanced at the faces of [those 
two] fathers, examining the writing that was inscribed on their foreheads, 
all the while uttering sighs and shedding tears. Noticing this, one of the 
fathers asked her why she was looking at them so often. She said: ‘I am 
amazed at your steadfastness in enduring the inscribing of so many letters 
on your foreheads; the cruelty of him who did this to you deeply disturbs 
mef ‘It is on account of this writing,’ rejoined the blessed Theophanes, ‘that 
we will take issue with your husband, the emperor, before the implacable 

For a narration of the imperial procession on the day of the restoration of the images: 
IX Afinogenov, ‘Imperial repentance: the solemn procession in Constantinople on March it, 843’, 
Eranos , 97 (1999), t— to. 

^ The court celebrated the re-establishment of orthodoxy in the palace built by Theophilos on the 
first Sunday of Lent. The Karianos was so called because it was built of marble from Caria. 

* The two brothers from Palestine who had been inscribed' (or tattooed) under Th eophilos for 
their adhesion to the cause of the icons. See the reign of Theophilos s c. ro. 

9 ° 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

judgement seat of God . 1 These words pierced the Sovereign Lady to the 
heart. With tears in her eyes she said to the saint: ‘Do I not have your 
affirmation to this effect and your written statement, that you not only 
grant [my late husband] forgiveness, but also decline to drag him into court 
and summon him to trial? 35 The patriarch and the rest of the throng of 
bishops calmed her down and soothed her distress. Then they rose up from 
table and declared: ‘Imperial majesty, our statements and contracts are 
immutable and undeviating; as for the small-mindedness of this fellow, we 
should not exaggerate it.’ Thus was the empress’ pain alleviated. 

6. It was at this time that Zilidan heresy arose, but it died out and dis- 
appeared together with its leader, Zilix, who filled the office of asekretis. 
For he and his followers converted to godliness; they were anointed with 
the sacred chrism and baptised. So much for the affairs of the city. 

7 . [go] When Bogoris , 17 the ruler of the Bulgars, heard that it was a 
woman, together with a tender child, who was ruling the Romans, he 
became insolent. He sent messengers to the imperial city threatening to 
break the treaties and to attack the Romans’ territory. There was noth- 
ing ignoble or womanly about the reply of the empress: ‘You will have to 
reckon with me fighting against you and, if it be God s will, getting the 
better of you. And even if it is you who gets the upper hand (which is by no 
means impossible), the victory will still be mine since it will be a woman, 
not a man, whom you will have overcome.’ These words took th e wind out 
of the barbarian’s sails; he fell silent and renewed the former treaties. 

Then the empress an d the ruler resumed diplomatic contact with each 
other: she, for her part, on account of one Theodore, surnamed Koupharas, 
a person of distinction who was very useful to the state, but who was a 
prisoner in Bulgaria. As for Bogoris, he was concerned about his own sis- 
ter; captured in a raid, she had lived in the imperial palace (where she was 
held prisoner) for a long time. During her captivity she had been initiated 
into the Christian faith and had also learnt to read. Subsequently released, 
her unbounded praise for the Christian faith was ever in her brother’s 

A reference to the negotiations between The odora and the clergy when the cult of icons was 
reintroduced. The clergy undertook to bring no accusations against the deceased emperor — this 
in order ro safeguard the dynasty. 1 h is anecdote reveals that rh ere were divisions within the ranks 
of the clergy* 

’ 6 On the heresy of Zilix or Lizix ( PmbZ 8642 = PBE Zeli 1): J* Gouillard, Deux figures mal con- 
nues du second iconoclasme’, B> 31 (1961), 371 — 387 repr. La vie religieuse a Byzance (London, 1981), 
no. VI. Zilix was anointed but he was not re-baptised, which rather suggests that the heresy was 
not considered to deviate too far from orthodoxy* 

’ 7 Boris ( PmbZ 1035 = PBE Boris 1) was not ruling Bulgaria at this date; he succeeded his father, 
Persianos, when the latter died in a battle with the Serbs in 852. 

I he name of this monk ( PmbZ 7723 - PBE Theodores j6) is not found anywhere else. 

Michael III and Theodora 

9 1 

ears; In rhis way she sowed the seeds of faith in his heart. He had already 
been apprised of the divine mysteries by Koupharas. After the exchange 
had been effected, the woman having been delivered to her brother and 
Koupharas given in return to the Sovereign Lady, the Bulgar ruler kept 
faith wi th h is erroneous beliefs, clinging to his own religion even though 
he had b een instructed in and informed all about the divine mysteries. 
Then a severe famine afflicted the land of the Bulgars, and when all other 
help failed the ruler called upon the God of the Christians for aid, the 
God whose lore Theodore and his own sister had communicated to him, 
charging the entire [91] nation to do likewise. The famine abated; thus 
they all converted to the worship of God. Boris, being counted worthy of 
baptism, took the name of the emperor of the Romans, Michael, when he 
received holy baptism at the hands of the bishop who had been sent to him 
for that purpose. 

Something else happened which led the ruler to the right religion and 
confirmed him in it. He had an insatiable appetite for hunting and he 
wanted to satisfy it, not only out on the chase but also when he was relax- 
ing at home — by looking at pictures of hunting scenes. Having just built 
himself a new house, he now engaged a painter, a Roman monk named 
Methodios. He told this monk to fill the dwelling with pictures but (as 
though he were under the guidance of divine inspiration) he did not 
specify in so many words which and what kind of wild animals were to 
be portrayed. He to Id the monk to depict whatever he liked, so long as 
his scenes were sufficiently impressive to inspire consternation and terror 
in the beholder. Now the monk knew of nothing that was more awe- 
inspiring than the second coming of Christ, so that is what he painted 
there. When the project was finished, the ruler looked upon the choir 
of the righteous with their crowns at this side, then upon the cohort of 
sinners being punished over there. When the artist had explained to him 
what the scene portrayed, he immediately renounced his own religion, 
received instruction in the holy mysteries (as we said) from a godly bishop 
and was baptised in the middle of the night. 39 

When the rulers of the people and the common folk learned of his 
change of religion, they rebelled against their leader and sought to kill 

' Boris-Michael was baptised in 864* Michael was not really his godfather lor he was not present 
to receive the Bulgar from the font. Skylitzes says nothing of the way Boris had blackmailed 
Constantinople by threaten ing to place the infant church under the authority of the pope — this in 
order to gain greater autonomy for it. On [he baptism ol the Bulgars (most recently):]. Kloczowski, 
‘Les nouvelles chretientes du monde occidental: la christ ianisation des Slaves, des Scandinaves et 
des I Iongrois entre le IXe et le XI e sieclc\ Histoire du christianisrne y I v: Eveques } moines et empereurs 
(Sto—w^X ed. G. Dagrotij P. Riche and A* Vauchez (Paris, 1991), 1 v, 921— 7. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

him. Bur with the few men who were with him and the sign of the cross 
going on before them, he was able to put the insurgents to flight. So 
amazed were they at this unexpected reverse that he was able to ma ke 
them Christians. 40 When the entire nation had been converted to the 
worship of God, he wrote to the Sovereign Lady asking to be given land 
because his subjects were in dire straits. In return, he promised to unite 
the [two] nations and bring about an eternal and irrevocable peace. 
The empress received this request with great gladness and she gave him 
the land (it was deserted in those days) which stretches from the place 
called Sidera — which was then the border between the Bulgars and the 
Romans — as far as Debeltos, [92] which the Bulgars call Zagora. 41 So 
that is how the whole of Bulgaria was converted to the worship of God 
and the west enjoyed profound peace. 

8. 1 he western regions now lived under cloudless skies and in stable 
piety. The empress rejoiced and was glad in this state of affairs; with 
the intention of improving it yet further, she addressed herself to the 
task of bringing back to true religion those Manichees in the east, com- 
monly called Paulicians after the founders of the heresy. Alternatively, if 
she failed to convert them, she would completely obliterate them from 
among mankind, 42 a decision which filled the world with many woes. 
For, far from discharging their commission with moderation, those who 
were sent to prosecute the campaign (Leo son of Argyros, Andronikos 
son of Doukas 43 and Soudales) acted with great savagery. Some [of the 
Manichees] they hung on gallows, some they put to the sword, while 
others were despatched with various kinds of afflictions and by diverse 




4 ' 

This uprising of the Bo yards took place in 856 or 8 6 6. Boris, qua new Constantine, conquers by 
the sign of the cross like Constantine I at the Mi Man Bridge. 

Skylitzes 5 narrative is incoherent; it is most unlikely that the empress would have abandoned 
land to the Bulgars just because they were in dire straits. Skylitzes may have been confused by 
his source, Theophanes Continuatus , which gives two versions of the same event side by side. 
Boris’ conversion took place the year following the great victory of the Romans over the emir of 
Melitene, without any known coercion by Constantinople, Most recently: C* Zuckerman, 'Deux 
etapes de la formation de Fancien etat russe 5 , Les centres proto-urhains russes entre Scandinavie , 
Byzance et Orient , ed. M. Kazan ski, A. Nersessian and C . Zuckermann (Realites by zan tines, 7, 
Paris, 2000), 95—120, Appendix, 'Sur les circon stances de la conversion des Russes’, 118—20. 

The chronology here is completely wrong in placing the move against the Paulicians shortly 
after the baptism of Boris-Michaeh Theodora moved against them at the very beginning of her 
regency, possibly to conciliate the church: P. Lemerie, ‘Uhistoire des Pauliciens d’Asie Mineure 
d apres les sources grecques’, TM, 5 (1973), 1— 144, at 89. 

This is the first appearance of the names of two of the most important families of the military 
aristocracy, Leo Argyros (Pm bZ 4506 = PBE Leo 109) and Andronikos Doukas (PmbZ 436 = PBE 
Andronikos 3). On the Argyroi see J. F. Vannier, Families Byzantines: les Argyroi, IXe —Xlle siecles 
(ByzSorb, 1, Paris, 1975); on the Doukai, D. I. Polemis, The Doukai: a contribution to Byzantine 
proso p ography (London, 1968). 

Michael III and Theodora 


and multiform methods of torture, until ten times ten thousand men had 
been destroyed, their possessions appropriated by the state. In this way the 
remaining Manichees were brought to a state of insurrection; this is how 
th ey were provoked to revolt. 

Th eodotos Melissenos was functioning as commander of the Anato likon 
[theme] and serving him in the office of protomandator was a man named 
Karbeas, 44 an adherent of the faith of the Manichees. When he heard 
that they had impaled his own father, he was outraged by this atrocity 
beyond sufferance and deserted to Amr, the emir of Melitene, together 
with five thousand of his co-religionists. From him the deserters went to 
the amermoumnes and were received by him with great honour. Pledges 
of loyalty were exchanged, and [93] before long these same men marched 
out to attack Roman territory. They undertook the building of towns, 
Argaoun and Amara. Then, since they had grown to the point of over- 
population because there was a steady stream of Manichees arriving whom 
fear had driven into hiding, a third town was added; this one they called 
Tephrike. 46 Setting out from these towns they joined forces with Amr, 
emir of Melitene, and with Aleim, emir of Tarsus; then they made no end 
of ruthlessly invading and devastating Roman territory. Aleim, however, 
went off with his army into a country of the Armenians, where he lost 
both his life and the entire army that was following him, 47 while Amr fell 
foul of an uprising among his own people at the instigation of his co-ruler, 
said to be the son of Skleros. 48 His attention was entirely occupied with 
his own problems and he did not have time to fight others until he was at 

44 Karbeas ( PmbZ ^62 5 = PBE Karbeas 1) was chief of the couriers, hence a member of the entourage 
of the strategos. Theodotos Melissenos ( PmbZ 7962 - PBE Theodotos 16) must be d istinguished 
from the patriarch of the same name who died in 82 r. 

45 The town of Argaoun (to the north of Melitene) was already in existence before the advent of 

4 ' Lt Tephrike, founded by Karbeas prior to 856 on the border of the empire, succeeded in evading the 
control ol both the emperor and of the emir of Melitene. It has succeeded in keeping its name all 
through the centuries: the Turks now call it Devrigi. 

4 " He was appointed to a new post in Armenia* probably in 863, and met his death the fol- 
lowing year in an encounter with the Romans near Mayyafariqin; A. A. Vasiliev, Byzance 
et les Arabes, 1: La dynastie dAmorium , 820—86/ (Brussels, 1935); 11: Les relations politiques 
de Byzance et des arahes a Pepoque de la dynastie macedonienne , ed* M . Canard (CRHB 2, i, 
Brussels, 1968)* 277, 

4S This Skleros ( PmbZ 6822 = LEE Skleros 2) must be a member of the family of that name, already 
distinguished at Byzantium. Hie curious mention of a civil war in which he was on the opposite 
side to the emir of Melitene can be understood when one hears in mind that Armenia, in sub- 
jection to the Abbassids, would be obliged to f urn is h the caliph with troops. A quarrel must 
have broken out between Skleros the Armenian chiel and his immediate superior: W. Seibt, Die 
Skier oi* Erne prosopographisch-sigillographische Studie (Byzantina Vindobonensia, 9, Vienna, 
T9 76), 21-3. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

liberty after successfully opposing his antagonist. 49 Once that matter was 
attended to he took advantage of the cessation of hostilities and, incapable 
of remaining at peace, joined up with Karbeas and went out in full force 
against the Romans. 

He was opposed by Petronas, brother of the empress, serving as domes- 
tic of the scholai. Strictly speaking, this command pertained to Bardas, 
his older brother, but it was he who in fact exercised it, not because the 
other was dilatory but because his attention was fully engaged in his task 
as guardian of the young emperor. In his present office of commander of 
the ihracesian theme,' 1 Petronas campaigned against Amr and Karbeas; 
in due course this history will revea 1 h ow he engaged them and what he 

9. Now that the emperor Michael was emerging from childhood and 
approaching manhood, 51 he was anxious to take the administration of 
state affairs into his own hands. In this he was encouraged by Bardas, his 
guardian and uncle, the empress > brother, who, for his part, was possessed 
by a burning desire to lay his own hands on the imperial office. He busied 
himself with nothing but that which might help him to attain [94] what 
he was aiming for. However, to make the situation clearer to the reader, 
let us take up the story a little earlier. The two [original] guardians to 
the emperor living in the palace, Manuel and the logothete Theoktistos, 
were so much at loggerheads with each other that a charge of high trea- 
son was brought against Manuel. He was alarmed by this and, fearing 
the other’s jealousy, came to the conclusion th at it would be better for 
him to be out of the palace; also to retrain from participating in regular 
[council-] meetings and matters of state. So he moved back into his own 
house located near the cistern ot Aspar. (He subsequently transformed it 
into a monastery and it was there that his remains were laid.) 52 He would 
arrive from there and take part in state affairs occasionally. Having effect- 
ively rid himself of Manuel (not by his own efforts, but by the interven- 
tion of Theoktistos), Bardas was now on the lookout for an opportunity 
to achieve his ends. Fully aware that Theoktistos was standing in his way, 

49 I he Arab sources appear to know nothing of this conflict* There were Skier oi living in the empire 
already, the first known one being a strategos of the Peloponnese under Nikephoros I: Seibt, 
SkUj'oi? 19—20* 

Thus all the commanders of Asia Minor were under the orders ot Petronas ( PmbZ 5929 = PBE 
Petronas 5), who also commanded the corps of the scholai* A similar joint command is mentioned 
again in 1057: Theodore in the reign of Michael VI (see below). 

He was in his sixteenth year* 

52 This monastery was subsequently rebuilt by Photios after an earthquake; he was eventually buried 
there: Jan in, Eglises et monasteres y r, 320—2. 

Michael III and Theodora 


he turned his attention to getting rid of him) all the more so because [the 
logothete] frequently reprimanded him for his clandestine affair with his 
own daughter-in-law. But this is what initiated the process by which he 
achieved his ends. The emperor Michael’s schoolmaster was an ill-bred 
and worthless fellow whose pupil wished to promote him yet higher in the 
ranks of the imperial officers. The son begged his mother and Theoktistos 
to appoint the man to a greater honour, but Theoktistos would have none 
of it: ‘The business of the empire must be conducted in a befitting man- 
ner, not inappropriately,’ he declared. Bardas now seized upon this worth- 
less schoolmaster as the instrument of his will, using him constantly to 
sow seeds of discontent in the emperors mind against Theoktistos. One 
moment he would say [the logothete] was not running the government 
properly; at another time, that he wanted to marry [Michael’s] mother or 
one of his sisters to some man, put out [the emperor’s] eyes and remove 
him from the throne. 5 ' 1 Frequently harping on this theme, he added that 
prudent and immediate advice was now called for. [Uncle and nephew] 
frequently exchanged opinions concerning the situation, searching for a 
remedy, and finally they came to the conclusion that they would have to 
get rid of Theoktistos. That is the decision they came to in the end and 
this is the plan they adopted to achieve their ends. [95] fust as Theoktistos 
was about to leave for the Lausiakon 55 at the end of a reports session, the 
emperor would accompany him a short distance and merely cry out ‘Seize 
him!’ As Theoktistos was emerging on his way out, he recognised the agreed 
signal when it was given; he thought he could get himself out of danger by 
fleeing, going towards the Hippodrome by way of the chancellery (for that 
is where the offices of the secretaries used to be). 5 ' But, being one man sur- 
rounded by many, he was forced to remain where he was. And there stood 

As usual the sources contain two stories of the death of Theoktistos, the different versions of 
the Chronicle of the Logothete on the one hand and of Theophanes Continuatus and Genesius on 
the other: P. Karl in-Hay ter, "Etudes sur les deux his to ires du regne dc Michel I IT, ik 4 I (1971), 
496—542. The ambitious Bardas was in fact in exile at the time, desirous of returning to the pal- 
ace. In addition to MichaePs desire ro assume power (which was, after all, a legitimate desire) 
the logo the te*s performance in foreign affairs had been less than brilliant. In 843 he bad failed to 
gain a foothold on Crete and the following year did not prevent Amr from penetrating as far as 
Malagina in Rithynia. In 845 the Roman chiefs captured at A morion were executed; it was not 
until 855 th at the empire went onto the offensive, against Anazarbos. 

54 Thekla was associated with the purple, but when Michael became sole ruler he suppressed the 
coins on which his sister was portrayed (Z)OC, ill, 1:454). The young emperor might w r ell h ave 
been troubled by the precedent of Eirene and Constantine V I. 

55 Thiswasa magnificent hall, decorated with golden mosaics by Theophilos: Guilland, Topographic , 
154—60. A guard was provided specifically lor this location: Oikonomides, Listes, 299. 

56 Thus comment on the location of the offices is present in Skylitzes* source {Theophanes Continuatus , 
170) which indicates that the offices were moved between the ninth and tenth centuries. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Bardas with a naked sword, threatening to wound anybody who stood in 
his way or tried to come to the others aid. Theoktistos was taken to the 
Skyla 7 and thrown into a cell until the case against him was formulated. 
But in the end they decided it was not advantageous to let him live (for 
fear of the Augousta), so th ey sent a member of the Hetaireiai to brandish 
a naked sword at him. When he saw the man approaching, weapon in 
hand, he protected himself with a bench to escape being injured, but he 
was mortally wounded in the belly; his guts spilled out and he died. That 
is the way in which Theoktistos was eliminated.- 8 When Manuel heard of 
the murder he came immediately to the palace where he is said to have 
addressed these words, as one inspired, to Bardas: 

To slay Theoktistos you bared the sword; 

Prepare yourself for slaughter day by day. 

After the slaughter of Theoktistos, Bardas himself assumed the office oi 
prefect of the inkstand. When the empress Theodora learned what had 
happened, she ran around with her hair down and filled the palace with 
lamentation, hurling reproaches and curses at both her son and her brother, 
calling down a similar death upon them. Finding her reproaches intoler- 
able (and Bardas not deviating in the least from his goal) they decided to 
rid themselves of her too, so that in future they could do whatever without 
let or hindrance. This she perceived (for she was well able to observe and to 
conjecture) but she did not think [96] she should take any counter meas- 
ures, because she had a horror of killing and bloodshed. But she did decide 
to reveal to the Senate the wealth which was deposited in the palace, in 
order to restrict the prodigal expenditure of the son and to make known 
her prudent stewardship. She convened the Senate and rose to address it, 
rendering her account in words like these: ‘Fathers, lying in the imperial 
treasury there are nineteen hundred kentenaria of gold and about three 
thousand of silver which my husband acquired, or which 1 was able to 
accumulate after his death, in addition to many other assets of various 
kinds. I am communicating this information to you, so that if my son, 
your emperor, should claim after 1 have departed from the palace that 1 

57 On rhe Skyla prison see Guilland, Topographic , 151—64, The Skyla gate provided a covered way 
from the Great Palace to the Hippodrome* 

^ George the Monk and the versions which depend on his text omit the imprisonment of 
ih eokristos. The date of his death, 20 November 855, is supplied by the Synaxariom R Halkin, 
1 I rois dares historiques precisees grace au synaxaire’, B , 24 (1954), IT— T 4 . 

'' The extraordinary amount of silver in proportion to the gold may be of some importance: 
N* Oikonomides, 'The role of the Byzantine state in the economy', EHB > 1016—17 
C. Morrisson, ‘Byzantine money; its production and circulation’, EH B i table 6 and p. 941. 

Michael III and Theodora 


left it destitute of riches, you will not readily believe him/ When she had 
said this, she summoned the persons in charge of the imperial treasury 
who confirmed what she had said. The empress bid the senate farewell, 
renounced all power and decision-making authority, then departed from 
the palace/ 1 " 

io. Such were the extent and diversity of the imperial assets; but they did 
not in the least suffice for the insanity of Michael. He delighted more than 
any other man in horse races; nor did he consider it beneath his dignity 
to drive a chariot himself. Acting as godfather to the children of his fel- 
low sportsmen, racegoers and charioteers, he would pour out the imperial 
assets, presenting a hundred, eighty or at least fifty pounds of gold to each 
one of them. He presented a gift of one hundred pounds of gold to a dis- 
reputable wastrel whom he honoured by promoting him to patrician rank, 
a fellow named Himerios by antithesis, for he had a savage-looking face. 
He exceeded the Himerios in the days of Tiberius for flattery. Looking 
to his own advantage, he would speak in a ribald and disgraceful way at 
table and shamelessly break wind in the hearing of the emperor and his 
fellow diners; break wind (what is more) with sufficient force to blow out a 
candle. To this man the emperor gave one hundred pounds of gold. And 
when he stood godfather for the son of his fellow charioteer, Cheilas, 63 [97] 
him too he presented with one hundred pounds of gold. 

Th us he did not draw on the public purse or expend money on any of 
the things he ought to have done; within a short time he had distributed 
so much wealth by this kind of inappropriate behaviour that when came 
th e time for the distribution of imperial bonuses and salaries there was no 
money available. So he melted down that famous golden plane tree, th e two 
golden lions an d the two griffins (which were also of beaten gold); the so lid 
gold organ and other works of art for which the Roman empire was cause 
of admiration, weighing no less than two hundred kentenariad 4 All these 
he melted them down and gave [the gold] to be minted in the imperial 
treasury. He did likewise with the imperial vestments of which some were 






Two years actually elapsed between the death of Theoktistos and Theodora's departure (858). 
Himerios means something like c longed for*. In Theophanes Continuatus> ed* Bekker, 172 * the 
appearance and no doubt rhe behaviour of this man gained him the nickname of choiros , pig\ 

By comparison* the strategos oi the Ana tol ikon theme received an annual salary of forty pounds 
of gold (= 2,8 80 pieces of gold), while a soldier received on average nine pieces oi gold. On officers 
and soldiers 5 incomes see W. Treadgold, Byzantium and its army , zS^—joSt (Stanford, CA, 1995), 

Cheilas (. P?nbZ 1069 = P££Cheilas 1). 

Equals 60 kg, which, as Treadgold notes (Army, 128)* probably corresponds to the amount which 
would he due to the army at Easter 8fSS. 

9 8 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

of solid gold, others embroidered with gold. These he gave to the eidikos 
to melt down too, but they did not get melted down before he departed 
fro m the world of men, whereupon Basil became ruler and he recalled [the 
vestments]. Of all that wealth Basil found no more th an three kentendria 
of gold and nine bags of sma 11 ch ange* Th is he expropriated to the public 
purse and complained to the Senate about the deficit, asking from where he 
was going to find the money to discharge his public obligations, 

ii. The empress Theodora was in the habit of going to the sacred 
church of the Mother of God at Blachernae both to worship and to 
bathe with her dau ght ers.’ 7 On one occasion when the emperor and 
Bardas, his nephew, knew that she was visiting there, they sent Petronas 
(who, as the narrative mentioned above, was her brother) to subject her 
and her daughters to monastic tonsure. For the time being they ban- 
ished them to the palace known as Ta Karianou, confiscating all the 
wealth they possessed and stipulating that henceforth they were to live 
as private citizens, not in imperial style. But Theodora departed this 
life not long after that; the emperor Basil subsequently sent her body 
and her daughters to remain in the Mamme [98] monastery which was 
renamed the Gastria. ’^ This empress [Theodora] had two brothers (the 
crafty, contriving Bardas and Petronas) and three sisters: Sophia, Maria 
and Eirene, of whom Sophia was married to the magister Constantine 
Baboutzikos, Eirene to the patrician Sergios, brother of Photios 
who later acceded to the patriarchal throne, 70 Maria to the magister 

::s The eidikos was the officer in charge of the treasury where they concentrated the coin needed for 
the soldiers' pay* He was also responsible tor the imperial workshops w T here vestments were woven 
in silk and gold thread: QDR y 1, 681* 

66 The alleged melting-down of the lions arid the plane tree is dubious because Liutprand of 
Cremona {Antapodosis 6*5, p. 147) claims to have seen them standing near the throne a century 
later* Either this anecdote is a further attempt to blacken the memory of Michael or he died 
before the orders were executed (as with the vestments)* 

6? Leo I constructed a bathhouse adjacent to the church which was used by the court; Jan in, Eglises 
et monasteres, T 162* P. Magdalino, "The bath of Leo the Wise and the “Macedonian Renaissance" 
revisited: topography, iconography, ceremonial, ideology', DOP, 42 (1988), 97-118* 

Theodora was deposed on 15 March 856 but remained in the palace until 858, when she retired to 
the convent of Gastria where her family tombs lay. According to George the Monk, 823, she was 
accompanied by her favourite daughter, Pulcheria, while the other three, Thekla, Anastasia and 
Anna, were sent to Ta Karianou. 

69 Theodora, three o f her d a lighters and her brother Petronas were buried there: De Cerimoniis aulae 
hyzantinae Libriduo , ed, J. J* Reiske (CHSR, Bonn, 1829—30), 647—8. 

70 Other sources ( Theophanes Continuatus , ed* Rekker, 175) indicate that Photios w r as the son of Eirene, 
sister-in-law of Maria* The question is complex but this is probably the preferable explanation* 
Skylitzes may have confused two Eirenes: the sister of Theodora who was married to (?) Theophobos 
and the mother of Photios who was the sister of the magister A r saber, himself the brother-in-law 
of Theodora as he was married to Maria, another sister of hers. On the family of Photios, see (most 
recently) Ch* Settipani, Continuite des elites a Byzance durant les siecles obseur (Paris, 2006), 175-82. 

Michael III and Theodora 


Arsaber, 7 ' a person of nobility and courage, outstanding among his con- 
temporaries. All [these women] were beautiful and good-looking, fall- 
ing only a little short of the apogee of virtue. Such were the relatives 
which Theodora left behind her when she died. However, the entire 
administration of public business now devolved upon Bardas alone, for 
he was held in higher esteem than all others by the emperor. Hence he 
received the dignity of kouropalates — as though this were a reward for 
deposing his own sister. 

iz. [Bardas] decided to campaign with the emperor (who had just 
attained manhood and left puberty behind) against the Ishmaelites and 
against Amr, emir of Melltene. When they arrived in enemy territory, they 
came before Samosata. 71 Samosata is a city on the banks of the Euphrates 
bristling with power and strength; this they procee ded to besiege. 
Feigning cowardice, the Saracens shut themselves within. As not one of 
them set foot outside of the walls, ostensibly for fear of the imperial army, 
the Romans left much to be desired in their security arrangements. On 
the third day of the siege (it was the Lords Day, the first day of the week), 
while the bloodless sacrifice was being offered and they were just about 
to partake of the divine mysteries, the Saracens threw open the gates and 
charged out, fully armed, attacking the Romans on all sides. Thrown into 
confusion by the unexpected nature of this assault, the latter made a deter- 
mined effort to flee. The emperor Michael was only just able to mount a 
horse and (with great difficulty) to get away; [99] but all the baggage of the 
emperor and of the soldiers was captured by the enemy. Karbeas, the com- 
mander of the Manichees, was clearly superior in courage to the others. 
He not only put to death many of the common soldiers; he also took sev- 
eral of the distinguished ones alive, no fewer than a hundred commanders 
and lesser officers. Most of these were set free on payment of a ransom; 74 
the exception was the commander of Scon, who expired in prison. 

71 The brother of John the Grammarian {see above). 

72 This expedition of 859 is attested by the Arab sources, Michael III was now nineteen; Bardas 
seems to have had some success. Possibly to withstand future reprisals, Michael restored the walls 
of Ankyra, inserting five inscriptions (one dated June 859) which have been found: A, A* Vasil lev, 
Byzance et les A rakes, 1: La dynastic d'Amorium, 820—867, ed, M. Canard (Brussels, 1935), 235—6. 

73 he* the holy eudiarist* 

74 Skylitzes 1 source has blended several campaigns into one* The Arab sources say the grand expedition 
o f A mr took place in 860 (the same year as the Russian attack on Constantinople), not 861, and 
they make no mention of the emperor's participation: Vasil iev Byzance etlesArabes, 1, 245-6* 

75 According to Theophanes (Zontinuatus , ed* Bekker, 177, Seon ( PmbZ 6528 = PBE Seon 1) was pal- 
atinos * This term traditionally designates any person who served at the palace, but there is no 
mention of it in the taktika of the ninth century as a position or a dignity* There was a family in 
the eleventh century named Palatinos; it supplied a katepan to Italy: V. von Fal ken hausen, La 
dominazione bizantina nelV Italia meridionale dal IX alV XI secolo (Bari, 1 : 978 ), 204. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Two years went by and then Amr, leading an army of no fewer than 
30,000 men, campaigned against the Romans again. Wishing to make 
good the former reverse, Michael raised an army of about forty thousand 
men from Th race and Macedon ia, then went out to meet him. When Amr 
heard of this, taking a short cut through difficult terrain he advanced and 
fell on the unsuspecting emperor, turning him back with great might and 
forcing him to resort to flight. He would have been taken prisoner too, 
had not Manuel, domestic of the scholai, cut a way through the enemy 
lin es for him and saveci him. All the others were scattered and it was each 
man for himself. 1 

13. In the second year after this war, Amr marched out again with forty 
thousand men and attacked Roman territory. He ravaged and laid waste 
the Armen iakon theme and also the coastal regions; 77 and then (they say) 
he was afflicted with a similar delusion to Xerxes for he ordered the sea 
to be chastised with whips for not allowing him to advance any further. 
Michael was grieved by these developments but he did not dare set out 
again himself against [Amr]. So he put his mother’s brother, Petronas, 
governor of the Ihracesian theme, in command of the Roman forces with 
orders to move against [the enemy] in full strength. Petronas was then 
near Ephesos; [100] plunged into great anguish on receipt of his orders, 
he immediately leapt into the saddle and rode off to visit John the monk 
at Mount Latros/ s It was there that this man, famed for his virtue, was 
leading the life of an ascetic at that time. Petronas diligently enquired of 
the monk concerning the matter. The latter did not hesitate in the least at 
the question: ‘Go forth against the Saracens, my son,’ he said; c You will 
have God for your vanguard.’ Armed with [the monk’s] prayers, he went 
to a place ca lied Lai akaon w hlch is in an area locally known as Gyres. 
He set up an ambush in every direction and then provoked Amr to an 

76 Theophanes Continuatus , ed« Bekker* 178, paraphrased here by Skylitzes* says that it was at Anzes 
that this conflict took place and from which Michael was saved by Manuel. Hence the story is the 
same as that of the defeat of Theophilos in 838. Gregoire was suspicious ol this coincidence; he 
saw the M ichael II 1 version as a measure to demonstrate the ‘survival* of Manuel while emphasis- 
ing the incompetence ol Michael: Gregoire* 'Manuel et Theophobe’ 183—204. 

7:7 In 863 Amr reached the Black Sea port ol Am in so s and took it {Theopbanes Continuatus * 179; 
Genesios 4*15), George the Monk (824} and Pseudo-Symeon (665) say he reached Sinope. 

78 Latros was located to the north-east of ancient Miletus* in the Thracesian theme; several mon- 
asteries had been founded there since the eighth century ii not earlier: T. Wiegand* Der Latmos 
(Berlin* 1913) and R. Jan in* Les eghses et les monasteres des grands centres byzantins (Paris* 1975)? 11, 
218. It was normal for an emperor or a strategos setting out on campaign to ask a distinguished 
holy man for his prayers and advice. 

Michael III and Theodora 


Amr was closed in on every side, like a wild beast, and he was 
extremely apprehensive concerning the outcome of the situation. He 
sent for one of the Roman prisoners and enquired what the name of 
that region might be and of the place where he had encamped — also 
of the river which flowed by. When he heard that the region was called 
Lalakaon, the place Ptoson 79 and the river Gyres, he too k th is to be an 
evil omen for himself. The names signified disaster and destruction for 
his host. ‘It is inevitable that we will be turned back by the Romans/ he 
declared. ‘H owever, there must be no wavering,’ he said to those who 
were with him. ‘We must rise up and acquit ourselves courageously in 
tomorrow’s battle.’ 

When day broke, knowing that he was closed in on every side and that 
any attempt to break out wo uld be in vain, he decided it wo uld b e in his 
best interests to move against the position which he co uld see that Petronas 
was defending. He charged the enemy with loud noises and commotion. 
Realising that he was attempting the impossible, he fell back a little and 
then attacked again in force with a sudden rush, trying to create an escape 
route for himseli. Failing again, he undertook the same stratagem a third 
time, and was then at his wits’ end what to do next. He could see the 
Romans appearing in all directions, ready to attack both from the south 
an d fro m the north at the same time; his fate appeared to be inescapable. 
He despaired of his life and threw himself upon those immediately in 
front of him with great violence. Thus he fell, mortally wounded, and not 
one ofth ose who were with him survived. His son had been sent out for- 
aging with a portion of the army. When he heard of the defeat, he hastily 
fell back on Melitene, but he was pursued by the kleisourarch of the [ioi] 
Ch arsianon theme and taken prisoner, he and his army. They were all 
handed over to Petronas, the commander-in-chief. Petronas came to the 
capital after achieving such a remarkable victory against Amr. He brou ght 
along the monk who had foretold the victory, singing the praises of his vir- 
tue, He praised and magnified him before both the emperor and his own 

79 Usually Poson; Continuatus ? 182, gives the origin of the form, Ptoson? and explains why 
it was so called: an Arab prisoner gives the place usually called Poson that name because he was 
foretelling the fall [ptosis) of Amr. Ibis decisive battle took place on 3 September 863, The precise 
location is unknown, but it was towards the border of the Armen iakon theme? near the river Halys: 
A, A. Vasil lev? Byzance et les Arahes, in Les relations politiques de Byzance et des Arabes k Tepoque de 
la dynastie macedonienne , ed. M. Ca nard (CBHB 2? 1? Brussels, 1968)? 252—6. Its consequences are 
important, for the emirate of Melitene never fully recovered from this blow; which meant that one 
of the two pillars of Moslem defence (the other being Tarsus) was significantly diminished. This 
permitted the Romans to seize the initiative in the east once the Pau lici ans had been subdued, 

8d This kleisourarch or merarch was named M a chair as: Genesios 4.15 ( PmbZ 4656 = PBE 
Mach alias t). 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

brother, Bardas. [Petronas] was raised to the position of domestic of the 
scholai, but he died a short time later. 

14. Manuel also died before him, carried off by some disease. Left alone, 
Bardas directed and carried the responsibility for all matters of state, con- 
tinually receiving imperial honours in exchan ge. He also aspired to the 
rank and honour of caesar, ^ for Michael cared nothing for affairs of state, 
only for theatre festivals and horse races. Tire worst of it was that he was 
not content with being a spectator; he would personally drive a chariot, 
making himself the plaything and laughing stock of all. Tills is how he 
occupied himself, while Bardas dealt with affairs of state, contemplating 
the imperial office with a view to succeeding to it when the time was ripe. 

Bardas was, however, also a devotee of secular learning, the pursuit of 
which had, over a period of many years, become seriously dilapidated, 
shrinking away almost to nothing (thanks to the boorishness and ignorance 
of those in power). 1 33 He assigned a location for each discipline — whatever 
was available for most subjects, but for philosophy (this being superior to 
all the other disciplines) a place was designated within the palace itself, at 
the MagnauraP 4 It was from this action that the disciplines began to be 
rejuvenated. However, excellent and famous though this action might be, 
it is not strong enough to wipe the slate clean of Bardas’ other deeds. 

15. To Leo, that great man and philosopher, was allotted the chair 
in philosophy. He was the nephew of the patriarch John. He had been 
appointed to the see of Tin essalonike but he too was deposed when the 
enemies of the icons were thrown out. 5 He was holding no appointment 
when he was promoted to this academic post. This is how he first came to 
the notice of the emperor Theophilos. 

Leo had mastered all the academic disciplines more thoroughly than 
any other man knew even one of them. Yet it was in a poverty-stricken 
dwelling that he lived and taught those who wished to be taught whatever 
they wanted to learn. [102] Time went by and many students made good 
progress in learning. There was one young man who had progressed to the 
highest degree in the discipline of geometry; he went on to be secretary 
to a commander. The commander went forth to war and the young man 

Hie date of his death (n November 865) is known from the Life of St Anthony the Younger : 
R Hal kin, "Saint Antoine le Jeune et Petronas le vainqueur des Arabes en 863 (d’apres un texte 
inedit )\AnalBoll y 62 (1944), 196—7. 

22 April 862 {PmbZ 791); 12 April 864 according to Grierson and Mango. 

Presumably with the exception of Theophilos. 
s+ On this school: P. Lemerle, Premier humanisme, 148—76. 

85 Leo {PmbZ 4440 = PBE Leo 19) was Archbishop of Thessalomke 840—3: Lemerle, Premier human- 
isme> 48—176. 

Michael III and Theodora 


followed him. There was a reverse and the young man was taken prisoner 
of war: ,s He was handed over to be the slave of one of the nobility Now 
the ruler of the Ishmaelites at that time, Mamoun, took an interest in 
Hellenic learning and was especially devoted to geometry. One day the 
young mans master was talking to him ab out the scholarly interests of 
the amermoumnes' and about his passion for geometry. *1 would like to 
hear him and his teachers,’ said the young man; C I would like to know 
what kind of geometrical knowledge they have.’ This came to the ears of 
Mamoun; he gladly summoned the youth, and when he arrived enquired 
whether he understood such-and-such a procedure. The barbarian was 
incredulous when the other assured him chat he did, for he pretended 
that in those days there was nobody other than his own teachers who was 
knowledgeable in geometry. When the young man declared that he wo uld 
like to put their teaching to the test, there they were, quicker than it takes 
to tell. Ihey devised triangular and four-sided figures, demonstrating the 
principles of the Elements 88 and teaching him that this figure has such-and- 
su ch a name while another one has that name. But they gave no explan- 
ation of how or why they were so called. When the young man saw them 
priding themselves and thinking they were so clever at designating figures, 
he said to them: ‘Oh, gentlemen: with respect to every account and fact, 
the reason why is of paramount importance. You seem to me to miss the 
mark completely. You merely note the existence of a thing as you run off 
your comments, apparently unaware of the most important thing of all.’ 
1 His threw them into confusion; they asked him to analyse and declare 
why each figure was so named. He examined and explained the reason [for 
each name], showing why this or another thing is given such-and-such a 
name, both in spee ch and in writing. As their minds were opened and they 
came to understand what was being said, they were astonished, asking him 
whether there were any others like him at Byzantium. He replied that [103] 
there were many there and that he himself was the best of the students but 
not of the teachers. They questioned him again about this teacher; who 
was he, and was he still alive? He told them who it was and assured them 
that he was still alive, although he lived a life of poverty, paying no atten- 
tion to anything other than the pursuit of learning. Mamoun immediately 

At the sack of A morion* The name of the young man was M anikophanes or M anikophagos 
{PrnhZ 4692 = PBE Manikiphagos i). 

This information is correct; al-Ma'mun had. founded a House of Wisdom (bayt al-Hikma) 
in which he assembled scholars capable of translating the works of antiquity from Greek or 
Syriac: M.-G. Baity- Guesdon., Xe bayt al-Hikma de Bagdad Arabica, 39 (1992), 131—50. 
i.e. Euclid. 

104 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

had a letter drawn up for Leo; it went something like this: ‘The tree is 
known by its fruit and it is by the student that we know the teacher. Since 
you, who are so advanced in the study of the nature of things, remain vir- 
tually unknown to your fellow citizens, reaping no advantage from your 
knowledge and wisdom, do not disdain to come to us a nd to share your 
wisdom w ith us. The entire race of the Saracens will bow before you when 
you arrive and you will be deemed worthy of riches and gifts such as no 
other man was ever held sufficient to be accorded.’ He gave this letter to 
the young man, demonstrated his good will to him with gifts and sent 
him to his teacher. He arrived safe and sound back in the capital and, 
finding the philosopher still alive, gave him the letter. [Leo] thought it 
might be dangerous to receive a written communication from the enemy 
without the knowledge of the emperor, so he went to the logothete of the 
drome. This was Theoktistos, who was later put to death by Bardas. To 
him [Leo] declared how the prisoner, his former student, had returned 
and delivered the letter of the amermoumnes to him. So saying, he took out 
the letter and delivered it into the logothete s hands. That is how Leo the 
Philosopher came to the knowledge of the emperor and into his favour. 
The student of whom we spoke publicly proclaimed the wisdom of Leo, 
which until then had remained unknown. The emperor summoned Leo 
to his presence without delay, enriched him and urged him to give public 
instruction. He designated a residence for him at the sacred church of the 
Forty Glorious Martyrs. 89 When Mamoun despaired of Leo ever coming, 
he set out some problems in geometry, astronomy and some other stud- 
ies, asking for a clear explanation of the solution of each of them. Leo not 
only provided fitting resolutions; in order to amaze [the ruler], he also sent 
him some i ndications of what was about to happen . When the amermou- 
mnes received the communication, [104] smitten with affection for him, he 
cried out in wonder at the wisdom of that outstanding man. He sent off an 
immediate embassy to 1 heophilos bearing a letter which went something 
like this: ‘I would have liked to come to you in person, as a true friend, but 
this was denied me by the burden of empire which God has laid upon me 
and the great number of people who are under my power and authority. So 
I beseech you to send me — for a short time — that renowned man of yours, 
distinguished in philosophy and the other disciplines, to share his learning 
with me. For I am consumed by a raging passion for his learning. Let our 
differences of race and religion be no obstacle; but rather, given the rank of 

Janin lists eight churches ol this dedication at Constantinople; he thinks Leo wou id h ave tau ght 
in the one on the Mese (central avenue): Jan in, Eglises et m on as teres, i, 483—4. 

Michael III and Theodora 


him who asks, let his request attain its goal at the hands of reasonable and 
gentle friends. In grateful recognition of this kindness, you will receive 
one hundred kentenaria in gold and an unlimited peace treaty.’ When 
Theophilos received the letter, he came to the conclusion that it would be 
inappropriate if he were to hand out to the Gentiles that knowledge of the 
nature of things which distinguished the Roman race; so he refused the 
request. But Leo he held in yet greater esteem and promoted him to be 
archbishop of Thessalonike, having prevailed upon the patriarch John to 
consecrate him. (As we said above, Leo and John were related.) 91 After his 
consecration, the people of Thessalonike held him in the highest honour 
for his innate wisdom and his acumen in all branches of learning; but they 
were amazed at him above all for the following reason. The land was ster- 
ile and bore no fruit in those days; famine was strangling the inhabitants 
of ihessalonike and the surrounding region. Every man thought that he 
had to choose between becoming a refugee from his fatherland or being 
destroyed by famine and a lack of the necessities of life. While he brought 
them some relief in their affliction, Leo also declared to them a season 
which the rising and indication of the stars established for him, a season 
at which he enjoined them to cast the seed on the ground. This brought 
about such a harvest that it sufficed for many years for the peasants who 
reaped the crops. 92 

Leo used to say that he had been taught grammar and [105] poetry 
in the capital but rhetoric, philosophy, the knowledge of numbers and 
access to the other disciplines he had acquired when he was on the island 
of Andros. 93 It was there that he made the acquaintance of an excellent 
man, Michael Psellos, 94 from whom he acquired only the rudiments, some 
theories and a few starting points. Not finding as much as he wished, he 
began going around the monasteries, searching out the books which were 
in them. In this way he provided and studiously prepared himself for the 
ascent to the most advanced stage of this kind of knowledge. When he 



9 ? 


Theophanes Continuatus , 190, says twenty kentenaria. 

The version of Skyl itzes and Theophanes Continuatus presents a difficulty of chronology in relat- 
ing Ma’mouiTs praise of Leo (who died in 833) w ith his elevation to the see ol Thessalonike (840), 
Th ere can be no causal relationship between these two occurrences (Lemerle, Premier human- 
isme * 150-4), 

This veritable miracle is ascribed to Leo’s learning, not to magic or wizardry. In this he is distin- 
guished from some other iconoclasts. 

It is a mystery why the young Leo wou Uh ave gone to Andros. See C. A n gel id i, Te sejour de Leon 
le Mathematicien a Andros: realite ou con fusion V, Melanges offerts a Helene Ahrweiler (Paris, 

I999)> i-7- 

Surely an interpolation of the name of this renow ned eleventh-century scholar? On Psellos as a 
source for Skylitzes, see I ntroduction, p. xv * 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

had satisfied his thirst for knowledge, he returned to the capital and there 
he sowed the seed of the disciplines in the minds of those who were willing 
to receive them. 

1 6. That is what happened at first. Then, when the heresy of the enemies 
of the icons had b een overthrown, its supporters were deposed. These 
included the patriarch John [the Grammarian] , and Leo too was deposed at 
the same time, this man whom Bardas appointed president of the philoso- 
phy school, as we said already. A certain Sergios who had been his student 
and was the father of the young man mentioned above [was appointed] to 
teach geometry while Theodegios, another associate of Leo, [was named] 
for arithmetic and astronomy. Generous living allowances were provided 
for them all. Prompted by his passion for learning, [Bardas] would often 
visit [the school] to encourage the zeal of the students, with the resu It th at, 
little by little, he brought about a florescence of scholarship. Previously it 
had b een completely snuffed out with neither trace nor ember to be seen. 

17. When the same Bardas became caesar he constantly visited the 
court rooms of the Hippodrome and caused the laws to be put back in 
force, the passage of time having led to their precise meaning being lost. 
However, [106] great and diverse though the benefits were which accrued 
from Bardas’ good deeds, these were stained and cancelled out by his love 
of being first, which was like an innate deformity and blemish of which he 
could not be rid. And there was the disturbance which he created in the 
church, stirring it up and troubling it. This is why, instead of acquiring a 
truly glorious reputation, he received the opposite. When the thrice-blessed 
Methodios departed this life after occupying the Constantinopolitan 
th rone for four brief years, Ignatios was enthroned as patriarch. 1 - 16 He was 
the grandson of the emperor Nikephoros [I] on his mother’s side an d the 
son of the emperor Michael [I] who fell from power. After he fell from 
power he was castrated and thus excluded from the succession; he became 
a monk, then hegoumenos of the monastery of Satyros. 97 Promoted to the 
patriarchal throne, he debarred Bardas from church for having put his wife 
away without cause and cohabiting with his mistress in contempt of canon 

95 The list of professors provided by Theophanes Continuatus T 192, followed by Genesios (4^17) differs 
somewhat: Theodegios ( PmbZ 7277 = PBE Theodegios 1) taught astronomy, Theodore {PmhZ 
7693 = PBE Theodoros 162) geometry, Kometas {PmbZ 366 7 = PBE Kometas /\) grammar, while 
Leo restricted li 1 nisei f to philosophy. 

96 Ignatios held the patriarchal throne 847—58 and from 867 until his death in 877. 

97 The monastery of St Michael at Satyros, located on the Asian shore facing the Princes 5 Islands, 
was probably founded by Ignatios shortly before he died there in 873—4: Janin, Grands centres , 11, 
42 .- 3 * 

Michael III and Theodora 


law. >R Though Bardas begged and pleaded, he was unable to obtain abso- 
lution; so losing all hope of doing so, he went onto the offensive. He threw 
Ignatios out of the church, subjected him to a host of unbearable sufferings 
and finally locked him up in the tomb of [Constantine V] Kopronymos 
with the crudest of ferocious guards to watch over him. That holiest of 
men would have died from grievous mistreatment had it not been for a 
godly soul who took advantage of the absence of the guards for some rea- 
son or other to bring [Ignatios] out of the tomb and to minister to his 
needs in an appropriate manner. Then [Bardas], inflicting the maximum 
amount of discomfort, exiled him to Mytilene. Many other bishops suf- 
fered similar and even worse treatment for failing to acquiesce in what 
was happening and declaring that, whatever happened, they would accept 
no oth er patriarch. Still, they eventually gave way to Bardas’ will, some 
coerced by threats, some beguiled with promises, abandoning virtue and 
glory for the love of riches and breaking ranks. Now Bardas chose Photios 
to be patriarch, a man famed for his wisdom, who was at that time head 
of the chancery. There being present at that time representatives of the 
pope of Rome who had been sent against the enemies of the icons, [Bardas 
and Photios] persuaded them to be of their mind. So [107] a synod was 
assembled in the church of the sacred Apostles at which they demoted 
Ignatios (recalled from exile) by public proclamation.' 0 Such were the 
wanton deeds engendered by Bardas’ love of the top position. 

18. The Russian fleet was ravaging and overrunning what lies within 
the Black Sea and all its coastline. 102 The Russians are a merciless and 

s Here Skylitzes* source, Theophanes Continuatus , is drawing on texts favourable to Ignatios, pos- 
sibly edited by his fervent admirer Niketas the Paphlagon* According to Genesios (4,18) Ignatios 
was promoted over the heads ot Basil and Gregory, both men of integrity and they too sons of a 
deposed emperor (Leo V), but the heresy of the father may have rendered the sons unacceptable* 
» The tomb of Constantine V had been empty since his remains were thrown out at some time 
(which can no longer be accurately identified) after the restoration of the icons by Theodora, The 
names of the jailers are given by Theophanes Continuatus and other sources: John Gorgon ites, 
Nicholas Skouteloptes and Theodore the Mad ( moms ). 
cc Protoasekretis since 858, Photios was a very senior civil servant of astounding learning who, among 
other duties, had been on an embassy to the caliph. Like Tarasios (his relative) and Nicephoros 
before him, lie went irom layman to partiareh in five days* He was the scion of one of the leading 
families of the capital which had suffered in the second wave ot iconclasm: I L Ahrweiler, ‘Sur la 
carriere de Photios avant son patriarcatA B/, 58 (1965) 348—63. See also W. Treadgold, The nature 
of the bibliotheca of Photius (DOS, 18, Washington, DC, 1980), 

]DJ A reference to the synod held at the Holy Apostles* church during the w inter of 860—1* The leg- 
ates of pope Nicholas I, Rodald de Porto and Zachariah dAnani, accepted the deposition of 
Ignatios (hence, the elevation of Photios) hut the pope disavowed their acceptance when they 
returned to Rome: Dagron, Histoire de christianisme, 169—72, 
loi 4]^ fi rst attack of the Russians (Scandinavian Varangians) took Constantinople by surprise 
w r hen two hundred of their vessels surrounded the city on 18 June 860* But according to the 
Armais of Saint Berlin in 839 a Byzantine embassy at the court of Louis the Pious brought w ith 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

savage race of Scyths living to the north of the Taurus mountains. They 
presented a severe danger to the very capital, but before long they expe- 
rienced the wrath of God themselves and went back home.' Then they 
sent a delegation of their people to the capital begging to partake of sacred 
baptism — which they did. Another fleet, this one fro m Crete, ravaged first 
the Cyclades, then the coastline as far as the Prokonnesos. 104 There were 
also severe earthquakes. The worst of them shook the earth the day the 
Lord ’s ascension was being celebrated. Tire wall by the Hexakionion was 
thrown to the ground. [The earthquake] dislocated some fine churches, 
illustrious dwellings, the Victory located at the Golden Gate of the city and 
the statues standing close by St Anne’s [church] in the Second District. 1 ' 
Leo the Philosopher openly declared that the fall of [the Victory] foretold 
the overthrow of him who would hold power after the then emperor. 1 ’ 
Rivers and springs ran dry and there were other calamities in every land. 
Although he took note of all this, the emperor s whole attention was given 
to the horse races by the church of St Mamas the Martyr which lies close 
to the Stenon. 

19. The following story deserves not to be omitted for it is eloquent both 
of this emperors stupidity and of the diligence of his predecessors. Wishing 
to have the Saracens’ incursions on Roman territory clearly signalled (so 
they could not launch surprise attacks, seizing land and taking prisoner the 

it some 'Russians* who were in fact Swedes, as the Frankish emperor and his counsellors per- 
ceived: J. Shepard, L The Rhos guests of Louis the Pious: whence and wherefore?', Early Medieval 
Europe j 4 (1995), 41—60. These people could not get back home as their path was barred by a very 
savage nation (I Hungarians no doubt). The first Russian 'state' was located in the north of today's 
Russia, centred on Staraia Ladoga, close to the Baltic Sea: S. Franklin and J. Shepard, The emer- 
gence of Rus, 750-1200 (London, 1996), 3—70* 

lo> The circumstances of the attack and w ithd rawal o f the R ussians are set out in two homilies of 
Photios pronounced while the events were happening: C. Mango, The homilies of Ph ottos patri- 
arch of Constantinople , English translation, introduction and commentary (Cambridge, M A , 1958), 
74-110, There is no question of a miraculous storm: the Russians withdrew of their own free will, 
possibly on account of the speedy return of Michael I IT They may have run into a storm on the 
return journey. Photios claims that they were converted shortly after this attack. Tills is not a 
reference to the mission of Cyril and Method ios, sent to Cherson to convert the K bazars. of this 
Skylitzes says not a word, nor of their subsequent mission to Moravia. 

104 Theophanes Continuatus , 196, says the Cretan fleet was about thirty vessels. Nothing more is 
known of these raids which appear to be contemporary w ith the Russian attack. Maybe the refer- 
ence is to the Arab onslaught which reached Athos after ravaging Mytilene, dated by Vasil iev to 
862: Vasiliev and Canard, 1, 258, 

105 16 May 865. 

106 Built by Justinian: Janin, Eglises et monasteres, i, 35—7. The wo rd rendered here as ‘statues 1 (pagias) 
is not attested in this sense, hut there are comparable passages to support it. DuCange translates 
it so, but with this unique reference, 

107 Meaning caesar Bardas. Leo probably argued that the earthquake which had shaken the ‘second 
district* (the space between the Constantinian and the Anthemian walls) presaged the fall of the 
second person of the empire. 

Michael III and Theodora 


inhabitants of village and countryside), [108] the former emperors built a 
fort on a strategic eminence at the Cilician Gates. The name of the fort was 
Loulon. 108 As soon as the garrison in that fort got wind of an attack, they 
would light a fire. When those who were stationed on Mount Argaion 109 
saw it, they would light another fire and then those on Mount Isamon like- 
wise. 1 Seeing this, the men on Mount Aigilon 111 would light up and like- 
wise those at the place called Mamas, 112 Then Kyrizos would follow suit, 
followed by Mokilos, then Mount St Auxentios would report the attack 
to those on duty in the Great Palace/ 14 This is how, by a succession of fires, 
the news was quickly delivered to the emperor/ 15 When those who lived in 
the countryside got the news, they would take refuge in walled fortresses 
and escape from the raids. Such was the procedure which was followed 
when, one day, just as Michael was getting ready to run a chariot race near 
the church of St Mamas the Martyr, the fire at the lighthouse was lit. On 
seeing this, he was consumed with apprehension as great as any other man 
might experience when in danger of his soul — fearing that his own chariot 
race might lack for spectators because of that signal of ill omen! That was 
how shamelessly he made a spectacle of himself. So to ensure that no news 
of disasters occurring should cool the ardour of the spectators, he ordered 
that the fires nearer to the Queen of Cities were not to be activated. On 
another occasion (the perversity of the man must be most clearly exposed) 
he was standing in his chariot and the starting gate was about to be raised. 
He was wearing the colours of the blues; Constantine, the logothete of the 
drome, 117 was [driving] for the greens, Cheilas for the whites and Krasas 

: H This fortress controlled the passage from Cilicia into Cappadocia; hence the Arabs and Romans 
disputed it for many centuries: H i Id and Restle, Kappadokien , n, 223-4. 

:CL? Location uncertain. It could hardly be the Argion near to Caesarea in Cappadocia, a high moun- 
tain tha t can he seen from afar, because th is would require a significant deviation from the direct 
route between Loulon and Constantinople, A better candidate would be what today is called 
Hasan dagi, close to Mokissos: Hild and Resile, Kappadokien , 149. 

Location unknown; probably near to lake Karanli in Lycaonia: K. Relke mlt Beitriigen von 
M. Rcstlc, Galatien und Lykaonien (TIB, 4, Vienna, 1984), 180. 

]IT Location uncertain; possibly in the region of Sivrihisar daglari, to the south-west of 
Dorylaeon: Belke and Resile, Galatien und Lykaonien , 118. 

]1Z Possibly a peak in the Olympus range. 

^ Th is hiii was on the Asiatic coast almost opposite to Constantinople, famous for the monastery in 
which St Stephen the Younger lived for a time: Jan in. Grands centres , it, 43—4. 

14 In the imperial palaces (Daphne, the Magnaura) the diaiterioi (ushers, attendants) were under 
the orders of the papias: Oikonomides, Listes, 130 and note 89. 

115 This system, invented by Leo of Thessalonike (Pseudo-Syoieon, 681—2) permitted the report 
of an Arab attack and its magnitude to be sent to the emperor by simple signals in about one 
hour: P* Pattenden, ‘The Byzantine early warning system/ R , 53 (1983), 258—99; C, Zuckerman, 
L Chapitres pen c annus de 1 /apparatus bellicus/ TM, 12 (1994), 361—6. 

Jt It was, however, still functioning in the mid-tenth century. 

1 1 C o n s ta n t ! ne M a n ia k es; h e was a 1 so d r o u n ga r ios of the watch . 


John Skylitzes : a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

for the reds. Then news arrived that Amr, the emir of Melitene, was griev- 
ously pillaging Asia; that he was already approaching Malagina, whose 
citizens were anticipating even worse disasters than ever before. When the 
protonotarios learnt of this he went to report it to the emperor, in great dis- 
tress. He had the letter of the domestic of the scholai in his hands and gave 
it to [the emperor]. ‘You. silly head,’ said he, throwing him an ugly look not 
unworthy of a Titan, Tow dare you [109] speak to me of things like that at 
the time of this crucial race? Only one thing concerns me [right now]: to 
see the centre [chariot] not run to the left;" that is the sum total of what 
I am striving to achieve/ 111 at is how delucied he was and how deranged 
in his reason. Nor was he so in thrall to this desire and passion that he 
was kept apart from other passions even more unseemly, for he even pur- 
sued moderation immoderately, so that his behaviour fell short of what is 
appropriate to and worthy of the imperial dignity. 

20. One day he met a woman on her way back from the baths, pitcher 
in hand; it transpired that he had stood godfather for her child at the 
sacred font. He got down from his horse, sent all the senators who were 
keeping him company to the palace which was close by and, taking with 
him some useless, debauched specimens of humanity whom he knew 
and maintained, went off with the woman. He took the pitcher from 
her hands and said: ‘Come on, woman; receive me as your guest without 
fear; I need some rye bread and white cheese/ Tiere she stood, rooted 
to the spot by what he had said, fully aware that she had nothing w ith 
which to entertain him, but in less time than it takes to tell, Michael 
took the towel the woman was bringing back from the baths, still damp, 
and spread it out on the ground as though it were a tablecloth. Assuming 
the ro le of the woman, he himself was host, emperor, cook, waiter and 
guest all in one. When he had dined with the woman, off he went to the 
palace, walking — on foot! — and complaining about the excessive foolish- 
ness and affectation of the former emperors (who, in fact, behaved quite 

21. This all conspired to render the man hateful, and the wrath of every- 
body rose up - quite justly — against him. Worst of all was the crew of 
catamites who followed him around, ready for any shameless deed. These 

llS Malagina in Bithynia was where troops assembled for campaigns in Asia; the imperial stables 
were located there. The Arab sources say nothing ol Amr of Melitene having prosecuted such 
a raid. On Malagina see Cl. boss* 'Byzantine Malagina and the Lower Sangarius/ Anatolian 
Studies, 40 (1990), 161—83; 2 ho CL Foss, Fortresses and Villages of Byzantine Asia Minor ( Variorum 
Reprints), Aldershot, 1996, no. vn. 

He was concerned not to be overtaken in the privileged position, the left-hand (inside) 
track: Guilland, Topographies T, 4* 

Michael III and Theodora 


he held in honour and respect. To make a burlesque of the sacred mysteries 
[no] and profane them, he dressed these fellows up in priestly robes 
woven with golden thread and in stoles. Then he obliged them to cele- 
brate the divine and most holy mysteries in a sacrilegious, indecent man- 
ner. 7h eir leader, a fellow named Gryllos, ' he called patriarch; the other 
eleven, metropolitans. The emperor himself played the role of one ot the 
concelebrants, calling himself bishop of Koloneia. When they had to sing 
in celebrating the mysteries, they performed their songs to the accompani- 
ment of guitars. Sometimes they sang softly and melodiously, sometimes 
striciently, just as priests make proclamations in the sacred liturgy. Ihey 
had golden vessels set with [precious] stones which they filled with vinegar 
and mustard; this they administered to the communicants in mockery of 
the immaculate mysteries. On one occasion this defiled rabble encoun- 
tered the blessed patriarch Ignatios in the street, walking in procession 
with the priestly hierarchy. When Gryllos saw him, recklessly and shame- 
lessly refusing to give way he lifted up his chasuble, and together with the 
‘concelebrants’ who accompanied him made yet more vigorous use of the 
stringed instruments, casting insults and obscene remarks at those chaste 
persons. Another time, when his mother was still residing in the imperial 
palace, this most disgusting emperor sent for her, allegedly to receive the 
blessing of the ‘patriarch’: Gryllos, pretending to be the blessed Ignatios. 
That most correct lady devoutly came forth [from her apartments] and 
prostrated herself on the ground, requesting a prayer. She did not yet in 
the least suspect anything, for the disgusting Gryllos had kept his beard 
hidden thus far.™ Then he stood up, broke wind and spoke some words 
which were just what might be expected of his mouth. She protested vig- 
orously against what had happened, hurling curses at her son and uttering 
a prophecy that, before very long, he would fall out of the good graces of 

22. But incorrigible is he who has once deviated from the path of right- 
eousness; thus he was very quickly overwhelmed by catastrophe, preceded 
[hi] by Bardas who in turn was preceded by Theoktistos the prefect of 
the inkstand, two men who gratified [Michael’s] desires rather than try 
to detach him from those most unedifying displays — which, being his 
guardians, is what they should have done. This narrative has already told 
how Theoktistos met his end; now there were signs which presaged the fall 

120 The real name of this companion of Michael III was Theophilos and he enjoyed the dignity of 
protospa tharios ( PmhZ 8222 = PBE Theophilos 8)* 

■ r Ignaties* being a eunuch, would have litt e or no heard. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

of Bardas: comets appearing and portentous visions in dreams. While he 
was asleep, [Bardas] seemed to be going to the Great Church with Michael 
as though it were some important festival. When they arrived and were 
entering the sacred church, he seemed to behold some persons dressed in 
white who went ahead of them and brought him to the sanctuary rail- 
ing. The only thing he noticed was an old man sitting by the patriarchal 
throne; he thought it was Peter, prince of the apostles. At the feet of this 
figure there grovelled the blessed Ignatios, imploring vengeance for the 
wrongs he had suffered. [The aged one] seemed to deliver a sword to one of 
those who stood by, saying: ‘The man who has angered God’ — that is how 
he designated the caesar — ‘set him among those who are standing in the 
area on the left and then cut him in pieces. As for the impious youth’ — by 
this expression he was clearly indicating the emperor — count him with 
those on the right 121 but tell him that the same punishment is in store for 
him.’ Such was the dream; the narrative will show whether what was seen 
in the vision came to pass. 

Bard as had b een arming himself for an expedition against Crete with 
Michael and the whole army, and paying a visit to the church of the 
Mother of God Hodegetria , 121 he entered with lights to perform the rites 
of departure . 114 As he was approaching the inner sanctuary, his mantle sud- 
denly slipped from his shoulders; this brought him the realisation that ter- 
rible things lay ahead of him. Moreover, the day before he was about to 
leave the city, either of his own volition or driven by what was to come, 
he assembled his friends in one place, treated them to a banquet and 
besought them to be mindful of his friendship and the bequests he had 
made — as though he had already departed this life. When they had set out 
on campaign against Crete and were arrived at a place called Choros in the 
Thracesian theme, [112] his attendants went ahead and pitched the tents 
with great vigour and enthusiasm. Thus it came about, either by design or 
through ignorance, that they set up the emperor’s pavilion on a plain while 
the caesar’s shelter stood higher, on a small eminence, Michael’s partisans 
saw this as a godsend and exploited it to the caesar’s disadvantage, fanning 
the smouldering plots against him into flames. The superior strength of the 
caesar disturbed them and weakened their enthusiasm for the enterprise. It 

J " The left and right appear to refer to Matt. 25:33®"., hut the significance is less lha n clear. 

Hodegetria (guide of travellers) was the name of a very famous icon of the Theotokos hanging 
in an equally famous Constantinopolitan monastery of the same name located near the Great 
Palace, close by the sea wall: Jan in, Eglises et monasteres , 199—207. 

114 Or, \o pronounce for hear?] the farewell discourse 1 , ton syntakterion [logon] ekpleran : 
M. E. Mullett, In peril on the sea: travel genres and the unexpected', Travel in the Byzantine 
world , ed. R. Macrides (Aldershot, 2002), 259—84, at 260. 

Michael III and Theodora 


was his son, Antigonus,' 15 who was in command as domestic of the scholai, 
and the rest of the generals respected his authority. [Bard as’] son-in-law 
(the husband of his daughter) Symbatios, 116 the logothete of the drome, 
was believed to be incontrovertibly on his side but in fact the emperor had 
secretly corrupted him. He it was and none other who contrived the assas- 
sination of his father-in-law by devising the agreed signal. He had just come 
out from reading the reports when he gave the sign for the assassination by 
tracing the sign of the cross on his forehead. The conspirators still hung back 
at the sight of the caesar’s bodyguard standing there. Alarmed now that 
[Bardas] might catch him in flagrante delicto and turn his sword against the 
emperor, Michael sent someone he trusted to put heart into his men with 
promises. The conspirators were so paralysed and afflicted by fear that the 
caesar would have escaped the danger and parried [the blow] if Basil, the 
future emperor (who was then chamberlain) 128 had not risen to the occa- 
sion. It was he who prevailed upon the conspirators to cast off their fear 
and to get on with the deed. Bardas recognised death as soon as he saw the 
men entering sword in hand. 129 He flung himself at the emperor’s feet but 
they dragged him away and hewed him limb from limb. Then they hung 
his genital organs on a spear and made a show of them. A great disturbance 
broke out which put the emperor in danger, but Constantine, the droung- 
arios of the watch, suddenly appeared with a con siderable force in the midst 
of the disturbance and broke it up. He had the emperor acclaimed, affirm- 
ing that Bardas’ death was what justice demanded. 

23. [113] Thus Bardas quitted this life and thus the Cretan expedition 
was abandoned, the emperor returning to Byzantium. This was the occa- 
sion for Basil to achieve the height of imperial power. Devoid of offspring 







Antigonus (. PmbZ 503 = PBE Antigonos 1) was then twelve or thirteen years old for he was 
already domestic of the scholai (at the age of nine or ten) in the victorious campaign against 
Amr: Theophanes Continuums , 180, 

As the name suggests, Symbatios was of Armenian origin* According to another tradition tt was 
Basil who won over Symbatios by claiming that Bardas was the obstacle to his own promotion to 
caesar {PmbZ 7169 = PBE Symbatios 1). 

Under the command of one of the Argyroi {George the Monk, 830), possibly Eustathios 
(Theodosios of Melitene, 1 71 ) : Vannier, Argyroi , 21* 

Para ko imomenos* Tli is is the founder of the Macedonian dynasty who seized power in 867* 

A list of the conspirators exists, with some variation: Marianos {PmbZ. 4768 = PBE Marianos 4) 
and Symbatios ( PmbZ 7168 = PBE Symbatios 2), brothers of Basil; Asylaion {PmbZ 4511 = PBE 
Leo 23) cousin of the same, Peter the Bulgar (PmbZ 6091 - PBE Petros 32), John Chaldos (PmbZ 
3320 = PBE loannes 89) and Constantine Toxaras (PmbZ 4011 = PBE Konstantinos 39): Georgius 
Monachus Continuums , 830; Leo the Grammarian, 244; pseudo- Symeon the Logothete, 678. 
Th ese must have been members of Basil's retinue for they were involved in the murder of M ichael 
III in 867* 

Bardas was killed on 21 April of the fourth indiction, 866: Theophanes Continuatus , 206* Skylitzes 
retells this story in the chapter on Basil L 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

and incapable of running the aifairs of state, Michael adopted Basil as 
his son and honoured him with the dignity of magister. A little later he 
set a diadem on his brow in the Great Church. Once [Basil] was firmly 
in command he endeavoured to draw the emperor as far away as pos- 
sible from the heinous deeds for which he was infamous, unaware that 
by doing so he was arousing resentment against himself. Michael could 
not tolerate the reprimands and took it into his head to get rid of Basil, 
who was preventing him from getting his own way. He brought in one 
Basilikinos, an oarsman oi the imperial barge, dressed him in purple and 
set a diadem on his brow. He th en led him out before the senate, holding 
him by the hand. As he was leading him out, he uttered words something 
like this: ‘O friends, i should already have promoted this man rather than 
Basil to the illustrious rank of emperor. I regret what I did; the rank is to 
be given to this man for 

First, he has the appearance of a ruler 

Secondly he is a fitting candidate for the crown 

And everything about him qualifies him for that distinction. 

24. It was this deed and speech which were the origin and cause of his 
undoing, but he added something else to them. Michael would become 
intoxicated from drinking unwatered wine, then, when he was drunk, 
command some very irregular things to be done: one man to have his ears 
cut off, another his nose and the head of a third. Basil prevented these 
things from happening, not only for the benefit of others, but also because 
he feared for his own person. Once Michael realised [114] that Basil was 
opposing him he devised a monstrous plot against him; it was this. He 
got somebody to throw a lance as though he were aiming at a wild beast, 
but in truth at Basil. This came to light b ecause the man who was told to 
do it made a clean breast of it when he was at the point of death. He flung 
his javelin but it went wide of the mark and Basil was saved. Once he was 
saved, he determined to take action rather than to be the victim of it; 
Michael was slain in the palace of St Mamas in am 6376, at the third hour 

HL Basil was crowned on 2 6 May 866* He does not appear on coins issued in the reign of Michae 
□ I, but the term rnegas basileus (great emperor) does feature on certain rare coins {milmresid} of 
Michael dating from 866—7, indicating MichaePs superior rank in comparison to his colleague 
(. DOC ? in 1:455)* Th^ rc is no agreement as to why Michael adopted Basil and made him co- 
emperor* C* Mango suggests it was a way to ensure an imperial title for the (as yet unborn) future 
Leo VI, fathered — as some believed — not by Basil, but by VI ichael. This ingenious hypothesis is 
somewhat weakened by the existence of Basil's o Ide r son, Constantine, who was the obvious heir 
apparent* For discussion ol this matter and ol the relations between Michael, Eudokia and Basil, 
see S* Tougher, The reign oj Leo VI (886—912), politics and people (Leiden* 1997)* There is informa- 
tion on the imperial galleon and who could sail in it in DAL c- 51. 

Michael III and Theodora 


of the night. He had reigned fourteen years with his mother then eleven 
years alone. And although he had lived in such an unbridled and irregular 
manner, he was not completely devoid of praiseworthy deeds. He donated 
a chalice and paten to the Great Church and also a new chandelier far 
superior to the old one. 

{The emperor Michael reigned, first with his mother then alone, for 
twenty-four years and eleven months. He acceded on 21 October and was 
killed on 24 September. His body was laid beside the emperor Leo who 
is there 1 ” at the church of the Holy Apostles in the heroon of Constantine 
the Great, in a green marble sarcophagus which was of Justinian the Great 
[-’s time ?] His wife was Eudokia.}” 4 

132 He acceded on the death of his father, 20 January 842, and was killed on 24 September 867, so 
he reigned twenty-five years and nine months* He was buried in the monastery of Philippikos at 
Chrysopolis: P* Grierson, ‘The tombs and obits of the Byzantine emperors (337— 1042) with an 

. _ 'V 

additional note by C* Mango and L Sevcenko', DOI\ 16 (1962), 3—63, at 57* 

' The text is unsure here* 


h * * jAddition of MS E only* M ichaePs wile was 
him and obliged him to marry: PmbZ 1631* 

Eudokia Dekapolitissa, whom Theodora chose for 


Basil I Kep halos, the Macedonian [867—886] 

1. [115] Once Michael wa.s eliminated as we indicated, Basil secured sole 
rule for himself. Continuing from where it left off, the narrative will now 
clearly indicate who this man was, where he came from and the reasons 
why he, who emerged from a humble and obscure background, was able 
to rise up to be the supreme commander of the empire. He was born in 
Macedonia but he was an Armenian by race, a scion of the distinguished 
line of the Arsacids which possessed the exclusive right by law of ruling 
over Parthians, Medes and Armenians. They had obtained this right by vir- 
tue of the fame acquired by the first Arsaces for retrieving for the Parthians 
their right to autonomy that the Persians had arrogated to themselves. The 
descendants of Arsaces ruled over the aforementioned peoples for a long 
time. The last was Artaban who, when he was expelled from his hereditary 
kingdom, took refuge in Byzantium together with his brother, Cleienes. 
Leo the Great 4 was ruling the Roman empire at the time; he received them 

1 There is an abundant bibliography on Basil I ( PmhZ 832 = /WfBasileios 7), Holmes' Basil II and the 
governance of empire (776-102$) (Oxford Studies in Byzantium, Oxford, 2005) being the first com' 
prehensive monograph since A* Vogt, Basile ler empereur de Byzance (867—886) (Paris, 1908); however, 
there is an unpublis hcd thesis: N. Tobias, ‘Basil I (867—86), the founder of the Macedonian dynasty 1 
(Rutgers University, 1969). There are several articles, not always as critical of the sources as one would 
wish, e.g, N„ Adontz, T'age et Porigine de 1 empereur Basile ler (867-86)', B 7 8 (1933), 475-500; and 9 
(1934), 223 —60, repr. N. Adontz, Etudes armeno-byzantines (Lisbon, 1965)* Among more recent wo rk 
one should mention L Scvccnko, La biographic de Basil ler (Bark 19 87), 91—127; and V* N. Vlyssidiou, 
Politique etrangere et reactions interleaves sous le regne de Basil ler: recherches pour l* identification des 
tendances oppositionelles pendant V epoque 867—886 (Athens, 1991), in Greek with French abstract. The 
notice in PmbZ (no* 832) contains much detail. On the origins of Basil see G. Moravcsik, Sagen und 
Legenden liber Kaiser Basileios L, DQP \ 15 (1961), 61—126; and A* Schminck, 'The beginnings and 
origins of the “Macedonian" dynasty', Byzantine Macedonia: identity * image and history t papers from 
the Melbourne Conference , July ed. J, Burke and R. Scott (Melbourne, 2000), 61—8. 

- Skylitzes passes over the introduction in Theophanes Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 211— 12, which por- 
trays Basil as a role model for his descendants and successors. 

[he Arsacids were really a branch of the Parthian dynasty. They governed Armenia until the begin- 
ning of the fifth century, A family of the same name is known at Constantinople but much later: 
in the eleventh century, relatives of Gregory Magistros. There is an inventory of them prepared by 
W. Seibt, Arsakuni-armenische Aristokraten in byzantinischen Dienst cn\jOB, 44 (1994), 349-59* 

4 Leo 1 Makelles, 457—74. 


Basil I the Macedonian 


with fitting honour, assigning them a residence in the capital commensurate 
with their rank. When the Persian king heard of this he sent a letter inviting 
them back and promising to restore them to their ancestral throne. They 
received the letter and, while they were discussing what to do about it, one 
of their attendants revea led all its contents to the emperor, who promptly 
confiscated it. Now the matter had become known to the emperor and he 
realised that the wandering foreigners were men of extremely high stand- 
ing, he housed them, together with their women and children, in a fortified 
town of Macedonia named Nicaea. 5 * 7 * 9 Later on, when the Persian royalty had. 
been destroyed by the Saracens, [116] the reigning amermoumnes did some- 
thing similar: he sent a letter inviting the descendants of the Arsacides liv- 
ing in Macedonia to come back home. This communication was detected 
by the emperor Heraclius. Knowing that the invitation was by no means 
issued out of goodwill towards the people in question, but rather, through 
them, to bring the race of Armenians and Parthians Into subjection, he 
transferred the strangers to Philippi, another city of Macedonia, and from 
there to Adrianople. They found that place to their liking and multiplied 
while still preserving their national identity. 

2. Time went by, and when Constantine was reigning together with 
Eirene, his mother, a man named Maiktes, a member of the Arsacid 
tribe, came into the capital for some reason or other. There he chanced to 
encounter a fellow tribesman called Leo. They became acquainted w Ith 
each other and ended up being fast friends. When Leo realised that the 
other also had the blood of the Arsacides in his veins and was living in 
Adrianople, he held the stranger’s land in higher esteem than his own 
because of the virtue of the man — and bound himself to him in a mar- 
riage alliance by marrying one of his daughters. From this marriage was 
born the father of our hero, a man distinguished by his vigour and the 
rest of his physical appearance. A noble lady, said to be descended from 
Constantine the Great, made him her son-in-law by marrying him to her 
own daughter, an extremely fine-looking girl. She eventually gave birth 

5 This is little Nicaea tc the south-west of Adrianople where Havsa is today — not to be con- 
tus ed with Nicaea opposite Constantinople where the ecumenical councils took place: P. Soustal, 
Ihrakien (Thrake > Rodope und Haiminontos) (TIB* 6, Vienna, 1991), 374—5. 

■ Reigned 610—41, 

7 Constantine VI, 780— 97* 

* This Armenian name, Hmayek, is characteristic of the family of the Mamikonian: Adontz, Cage 
et Porigine de Fempereur Basile ler\ 475—92* 

9 No source offers a name for Rasi Fs fath er* 

: This might be an allusion to the name o fB asiFs mother, Pankalo - which is known from an inscrip- 
tion on her tomb in the church of St Euphemia in the Petrion: Constantines Porphyrogenitus, De 
cerimoniis aulae Ryzantinae lihri duo y ed. J* J. Reiske (CHSB, Bon n, 1829—30), 648. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

to Basil, but not before he had given many signs of his imperial future. 
Given such parents, Basil was brought up with all the advantages of a leis- 
ured citizen. But Krum, the ruler of the Bulgars, was puffed up by his 
victories against the Romans; he collected a large army and laid siege to 
Adrianople. Nobody dared to lift a h and against him because, by virtue 
of his former good fortune in war, he seemed to be irresistible. 12 After a 
siege of some length, he reduced the city to the point of surrender for want 
of the necessities of life then deported all its inhabitants to Bulgaria as 
the terms [of surrender] stipulated, including [117] Manuel, bishop of the 
city. In this way the parents of Basil were led away into the land of the 
Bulgars, carrying the infant who was still at the breast. I 11 When they got 
there, the renowned bishop, the parents of Basil and the people accom- 
panying the bishop preserved their Christian faith. They converted sev- 
eral Bulgars to the orthodox faith even before the Bulgar nation had been 
brought to godliness. All over the Bulgar lands they sowed the seed of 
Christian teaching. 

Krum now came to the end of his life and his successor was Murtagon, 
a man who greatly surpassed the late ruler in ferocity. He was fully aware 
of what was going on and it filled him with wrath that the Bulgar race was 
being quietly converted to Christianity. He angrily summoned Manuel, 
the sacred chief pastor, to appear before him together with the leading 
members of h is community. First he tried to persuade them in a gentle 
way, [speaking] man to man, to abjure the orthodox and spotless faith 
of the Christians. But when he realised they were impervious to threats 
and promises he severely tortured them and put them to a martyrs death. 

I Tills origin attributed to Basil is patently fictitious, intended to connect him with an ancient 
Armenian ruling family* I le was undoubtedly of Armenian stock, but of modest status* The ref- 
erence to a new David in an anonymous eulogy addressed to Basil confirms his humble ori- 
gins: A* Markopoulos, An anonymous laudatory poem in honour of Basil V, D OP> 46 (1992}, 
225—32, repr* in Markopoulos, History, no* xiv* Nevertheless it has sometimes been maintained 
that Basil w as the great-grandson ol Leo V: Adontz and more recently C . Settipani, Nos ancetres 
de 1 anti quite (Paris, 1991), 185—6, which also contains some important notes on the families of 
the empress Theodora and of the patriarch Photios (who may have been the one who forged 
the Armenian descent of Basil, Pseudo- Symeon, 689), On the Constantinian origin of Basil: 
A* Markopoulos, "'Constantine the Great in Macedonian historiography: models and approaches*, 
New Constantines: the rhythm of imperial renewal in Byzantium , fourth to thirteenth centuries , ed* 
P. Magdalino (SPRS, 2, Aldershot, 1994), 159-70* 

II Skylitzes has gone back in time: he has already mentioned Kr urn’s advance in 813 when he took 
Ad rianople (reign of Michael I, cc. 2 and 6), the part played by Murtagon in the revolt of Thomas 
the Slav (reign of M ichael II, c. 12) and even the conversion of the Bulgars, which rook place after 
Basil *s return to the Empire (reign o f.VI ichael III, C. 7). 

^ Til is information implies that Basil was born around 811, which contradicts the rest of the story 
according to which he is said still to be a child twenty years later — when his parents were liber- 
ated. See E* Kislinger, c Der junge Basileios 1 und die Rulgaren*, fOB^ 30 (1981), 57—150. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


Thus did Manuel, the renowned chief pastor, together with the more 
distinguished members of his company, come to a martyr’s end and affirm 
[the quality of] his life. Many other people related by blood [to Basil] 14 
were also found worthy of the martyr’s crown. 

Then it came time for the remaining prisoners to be sent home (God 
in his heaven having striven to obtain their exodus). The Bulgar ruler had 
suffered a number of defeats; he could no longer resist the Roman forces, 
so he made peace instead of war — releasing the peo Pie fro m their captiv- 
ity. When the prisoners were assembling prior to returning to their ances- 
tral Homes, the ruler came to inspect them and, seeing tbe young Basil 
(who was now leaving childhood behind and entering adolescence), [118] 
called him to his side. He had observed the boy’s noble glances, his gra- 
cious smile and gestures. It pleased him to take the boy in his arms and 
embrace him as he stood before him — then to give him an apple of out- 
standing size. The boy received this gift without guile, confidently leaning 
against the ruler’s knees, thus showing his nobility by his unaffected and 
natural manners. The ruler was quite amazed at this, but his subjects were 
secretly angered that a young man of such quality should be allowed to 
return home.' 4 * 6 

3. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, those of the captive Romans who 
had survived were now released and sent home. The parents of Basil went 
off with them, taking along their beloved child. They say that many signs 
happened regarding him, indicating that he would be promoted to the 
summit of imperial authority. The other [portents] must be omitted from 
this discourse or it will be spun out too long, but it would be unforgivable 

4 I lerc the translation follows MS B, which ma ke s more sense* The point is that the future emperors 
family had provided martyrs* by way of additional distinction, Thurffs text says it was members 
of Manuel s family who suffered martyrdom. 

The martyrdom of Manuel and h is companions is found in SynaxCP (cols. 414—16) w ith a slightly 
different chronology. Manuel was executed together with 370 other victims who included George, 
archbishop of Deheltos, Leon* bishop of Little Nicaea, a bishop named Peter, a priest named 
Pardos and the two strategoi Leo and John, The khan is Ditzevg, who succeeded Krum in 815 hut 
was killed when he became blind and was replaced by Omurtag. The story of this persecution of 
Christians by Bulgars has, however, recently been called into question: M. Whittow, The making 
of orthodox Byzantium, 60 o — 102 j ( I . o n d o n , 1996), 281. 

Skylitzes follows Iheophanes Continuatus in describinga peaceful return of the Armenians to the 
empire; the report ol the Chronicle oj the Logothete is quite different {Symeonis magistri, 236—7). 
The Roman colony has been concentrated by the khan north of the Danube. The exiles decide 
to return* choosing as their chiefs Skordyles (son of Bardas) and Tzantzes. With the aid of the 
imperial fleet sailing up the Danube they are able to force a crossing during operations in which 
Tzantzes distinguishes himself for which he is rewarded by Theophilos and appointed strategos 
of the Macedonian theme. The logothete does not give a date but there is good reason to think 
this must have happened before the renewal of the treaty with the Bulgars in 836: W. Treadgold, 
The Byzantine revival, y 8 2— 842 (Stanford* CA* 1988), 219. 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

to pass over in silence the one I am about to relate. It was the height of 
summer; the child’s parents went out to their own field to urge on the 
harvesters in their work. While they were with the workers, they tied some 
sheaves together to make a shelter in which the child cou Id sleep , pro- 
tected from the burning of the sun’s rays. In this way they contrived for 
him to be unhurt by the burning heat of the sun and also for his sleep to 
be unbroken by anything going on outside. Thus, having improvised a 
nest with what came to hand and put the child to bed in it, they went to 
work. But the sun [came round and] shone its rays on the child, causing 
him some considerable discomfort; then an eagle flew down and shaded 
the child with outstretched wings. Ihose who saw it raised a shout, for fear 
the baby might be hurt by the animal. Immediately the mother ran to the 
child and found him sleeping peacefully. [119] But when she saw the eagle 
keeping the child in the shadow of its wings (which, far from being in the 
least disturbed by her arrival, seemed to expect some reward from her), 
she did not immediately realise the significance of the prophecy but rather 
picked up a stone from the ground and chased the eagle away. It flew off a 
short distance, but once the woman had returned to her husband, back it 
came and took up the same stance as before, shading the child with out- 
stretched wings. Again a great cry went up from those who saw it; again 
the mother came to the child, scared the eagle away with a stone and went 
back to the workers. After this had happened three or more times, she was 
finally just able to perceive the meaning of this sign from God and to see 
in what was happening an indication of what was to come. The child was 
now reared with greatest care by none other but his own parents. 

4. When Basil reached the age of a young man, 7 his father departed 
this life, leaving the mother a widow an dth is young man an orphan; dis- 
tress and affliction followe d. A swarm of concerns engulfed him; for the 
maintenance of the house and provision for his mother and brothers now 
became his responsibilities. Agriculture, it seemed to him, could be but 
little succour and help to him as a livelihood, so lie was of a mind to go to 
the capital and there to make adequate provision for the needs of himself 
and of his loved ones. The desire of going to the capital possessed him, 
but his mother opposed him and held him back. She refused to allow him 
to do what he wanted to do, begging him to remain and care for her in 
her old age. Once she was dead [she said] and he had accompanied her 
in person to the grave, then he could undertake the journey his heart 


Skylitzes writes neaniskos , youth; Theophanes Continuatus has meirakion , one whose beard is just 
beginning to show, fifteen to sixteen years old* 

Basil I the Macedonian 


desired. Yet even though she was so opposed to a separation, concerns 
about providing the necessities of life [120] caused her to relent and let 
him go. Leaving Macedonia, he set out for the capital. Having travelled 
the intervening distance he came to its Golden Gate, through w hich he 
passed towards evening. Worn out, he listlessly threw himself down to 
rest just where he was, which happened to be by the steps in the fore- 
court going up to the main entrance of the monastery of St Diomedes. 
Subsequently, in the first watch of the night, Diomedes the Martyr 
appeared in a dream to the hegoumenos of the monastery ' 9 commanding 
him to go out to the main entrance of the monastery, call Basil by name 
and bring back the one who responded into the monastery to be cared 
for. This was because the man in question had been anointed 20 emperor 
by God and was to restore and enlarge that monastery. Reckoning that 
what he had seen was no more than a dream, the hegoumenos attached 
no importance whatsoever to the vision and went back to sleep. Again he 
saw the same thing, a second time; again he paid no attention to it, being 
slow of understanding and drugged with sleep. Then he saw the Martyr a 
third time, no longer issuing his command quietly and humbly, but utter- 
ing terrible threats of what would ensue if his message was not promptly 
attended to and (or so it seemed) brandishing a whip. The hegoumenos 
awo ke in terror and, casting hesitation aside, went to the main entrance, 
calling out ‘Basil/ in accordance with the sacred command. ‘Here I am, 
sir; what orders have you for your servant ?’ 11 Basil immediately replied. 
The hegoumenos led him into the monastery and offered him all he 
needed by way of care and attention, entertaining him with warmest hos- 
pitality. When the hegoumenos was assured of Basil’s discretion an d th at 
he would not reveal it to anybody, after charging him to keep the secret 
to himself he revealed the Martyr’s prophecy to him, entreating him to 
bear the hegoumenos and the monastery in mind once things turned 
out as foretold. Basil put the matter out of his mind, thinking it beyond 
him. What he did do was to ask the hegoumenos to introduce him to 
one of the nobles to whom he could be of service, to which request the 

Legend said this monastery went back to Constantine the Great but there is no certain evidence 
of its existence prior to the sixth century: R. Jan in, La geographic ecclesiastique de l empire hy za ti- 
lt n, 1: Le siege de Constantinople et le patriarcat aecumcnique , in: Les eglises et les monasteres (Parks, 
1969), 95 - 7 - 

iy This man was of the Androsalitai family. The hospitality be accorded Basil certainly brou ght suc- 
cess to his relatives: Nikolas became oekonomos and synkellos, Paul epi ton sakelliou (respons ible 
for the state treasury), Constantine logothete of the gen ikon, John droungarios of the watch* 
while another brother became a physician. 

Kech rismenosy a reference to 1 Kings/i Sam. 10 passim . 

11 See r Kings/i Sam. 3:9—11. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

hegoumenos addressed himself enthusiastically. He presented Basil to a 
frequent visitor of that monastery, a kinsman of the emperor Michael and 
of the caesar Bardas, named Theophilos — hut whom they called by the 
nickname Theophilitzes’ 1 [121] on account of his small stature. It was this 
man’s concern to surround himself with vigorous, handsome servants, 
well known for their bravery. 1 5 When he engaged such persons, he imme- 
diately dressed them in silk clothing and rendered them magnificently 
splendid with their other accoutrements. Basil was enlisted among them, 
and he seemed to surpass the others so far in physical endurance and 
mental courage that he was promoted chief groom. 24 Ever advancing, day 
by day he became dearer to Theophilos and an object of wonder, by vir- 
tue of his own superior qualities. His arm was strong, he was valorous in 
spirit; moreover, he carried out every order promptly and correctly. 

5. That is how it was for Basil; meanwhile his mother was dying to know 
what sort of a journey he had had and whether he had discovered any relief 
from his adversity. Depressed and distressed though she was, in her sleep 
she saw a huge tree like a cypress, standing in her atrium with an abun- 
dance of golden leaves on golden branches and trunk; her son, Basil, was 
seated at the top of it. When she awoke, she recounted the vision to one of 
those pious women, who encouraged her to rejoice on her son’s account for, 
interpreting the dream, she declared that he would become emperor of the 
Romans. Adding this [revelation] to the previous ones, from then on the 
mother was no longer anxious for him, but full of joy, nourishing optimis- 
tic hopes for him. 

6. At that time it happened that Theophilos, Basils master, was sent 
to the Peloponnese on government business. Basil went with him, dis- 
charging the office which had been committed to him. When they came 
to Achaia, 2 Theophilos went to pray in the church of [St] Andrew, the 
Apostle who was the first to be called. 27 Basil did not go in with him, 

11 Also known ( pace Theophanes Continuatus) as paideumenos> Educated * 

13 According to George the Monk, Theophanes Continuatus , ed. I, Bekker (CSHB* Bonn, 820, 

Nikolas had a brother who was a physician in the service of Theophylkzes and it was he who had 
the idea oi presenting Basil to hi s master, who was just then looking for somebody to take care of 
his horses. 

14 Protostrator. The highest persons in the imperial hierarchy (Theophylkzes was related to the 
emperor) maintained courts modelled on the emperors court, giving their servants titles similar 
to those held by the officers oi the imperial court. 

The opkilos ( PmbZ 8221 - PBE Theophilos 7) was related to Michael III and to caesar Bardas. He 
was count of the wa Ms for some time a nd al so domestic of the No urn era* a prison in the palace. 

2 ! Here meaning the Peloponnese, 

2 ^ Mark 1:16, etc. Andrew was the chosen protector oi Patras; he had protected it against the attacks 
of the Slavs established nearby in the ninth century: N. Oikonomides, St Andrew, Joseph 
the Hymnographer and the Slavs of Patras 5 , Leimon: studies presented to Lennart Ryden on his 

Basil I the Macedonian 


apparently detained by his responsibilities. Later on, however, wishing to 
pay the usual homage to the Apostle, he seized the opportunity [122] of 
going into the church — alone. Now in the sacred church of the Apostle 
there lived a monk who had cultivated virtue all his life. When Theophilos 
came in with such a retinue the monk neither received him nor stood up 
to greet him nor even held him wor th a fe w words. But later, when Basil 
came in alone (as we said), he rose up respectfully as if for one of the high 
and mighty ones and uttered an acclamation usually reserved for emperors. 
Wh Gii some of the people who were present saw this, they reported it to 
the lady who ranked first in that region, by both her way of life and her 
high-birth, a lady named Danielis/ 8 after her husband. Since she knew 
the monk was clairvoyant and possessed the gift of foretelling the future, 
she did not ignore what was told to her. As soon as she heard it, she sum- 
moned the monk and spoke to him reproachfully: ‘All the time that you 
have known me, spiritual father, and have known that 1 outdistance all the 
people of this region in every way, never once have you risen respectfully 
on seeing me nor offered an invocation for me. You have accorded neither 
my son nor my grandson a similar compliment. How is it then that, just 
now, when you saw a man of no account, a penniless stranger earning his 
livelihood, you rose respectfully and greeted him like an emperor?’ ‘I did 
not see this man just as any other man,’ the monk replied, ‘but as one pre- 
ordained by Christ to be emperor of the Romans at Gods behest, so I rose 
and offered h im an acclamation; for man must surely honour those who 
are honoured by God.’ 

When he had discharged his commission, Theophilos took the road 
back to the capital while Basil remained in that same place, suffering 
from a physical illness. He received the treatment appropriate to his con- 
dition and then prepared for the return journey. The aforementioned 
Danielis summoned him to her presence, where she showered him with 
gifts and considerable favours. All she sought in return was [123] that he 
would bind himself to her son with the bond of spiritual brotherhood. 
Aware only of his own insignificance and the distinction of the woman, 

sixty-fifth birthday ed. J. C). Rosenqvist (Uppsala, 1996), 71—8; E * Kislinger, Regionalgeschichte 
als Quellenproblem. Die Chronik von Monembasia und das siziltanische Demenna. Eine historisch - 
topograph ische Studie (Vienna, 2001), 41—5. 

According to L Sevcenko, 'Re-reading Constantine Porphyrogenitus*, Byzantine Diplomacy , ed. 
J. Shepard and S. Franklin (SPBS, 1, Aldershot, 1992), 192—3, Danielis (i.e. “wife of Daniel”) 
would have been an archontissa of the Peloponnese, meaning ruler of one of the autonomous 
enclaves created at the time of the Slav invasion, now peacefully reintegrated with the empire. 
Note that the text does not say she was a widow, yet she takes all the decisions, even for her son, 
which rather suggests that Daniel was no more. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

he declined her request on the grounds that she outranked him. But he 
acceded to her more persistent requests and, when she had obtained what 
she desired, she decided not to conceal the will of God from him, but 
rather to reveal and make plain His mighty acts, foretold and revealed in 
ways of which she was well aware. Tak ing Basil aside privately, she said 
to him: ‘You should know, young man, that God is going to set you up 
on high and appoint you master of the whole earth. I ask nothing more 
of you but that you be loving and merciful to me and to my descendants 
when my prophecy comes to pass.’ He promised that, if God were to 
allow her prophecy to be fulfilled, he would, if it were possible, appoint 
her mistress of all that area. He took his leave of the woman and went off 
to join his own master at the capital. With the money accruing to him 
from this affair he purchased enough land in Macedonia to ensure a gen- 
erous livelihood for all his relations, but he remained in attendance on 
his master. 

7. One day, Antigonos, commander of the scholai and the son of 
caesar Bardas, prepared a sumptuous feast. His father, who was to be 
the principal guest, came to the banquet bringing many other kinsmen, 
friends and acquaintances. There also came with him some Bulgars, 
acquaintances and friends, who happened to be staying in the capital.’ 0 
Theophilos, the master ot Basil, was also a guest at this lavish feast, for 
he was a relative of the caesar. When the wine was flowing freely and 
the banquet was in full swing, the Bulgars began to make preposterous 
statements and to brag about an athlete who was with them, celebrated 
for his physical strength. [124] They boasted that nobody could stand up 
to him in wrestling. Theophilos said to the caesar and before the assem- 
bled company: If it please your highness, there is one of my servants 
who could do battle with this famous Bulgar. It would be a great dis- 
honour for the Romans if this fellow were to return to Bulgaria unchal- 
lenged.’ The caesar approved his proposition and ordered the young man 


Here is one ot the reasons why the fictitious story o f D anielis is included* The entourage of 
Michael III was held to be corrupt and this accusation played an important role in the pro- 
Macedonian propaganda against Michael, Now Basil, the sometime close friend of Michael, 
became very rich prior to 866* The donation of Danielis was a convenient explanation of how 
this came about: S* Runciman, 'The widow Danielis', Etudes dedie es a la memoir? d Andre 
M. AndrSades , ed. K. Varvaressos (Athens, 1940), 425-30* 

It is not surprising that there were Bulgars at the court of Bardas, who was then ruling the empire* 
De cerimoniis speaks of Bulgar friends 1 participating in imperial banquets: N* Oikonomides, Les 
listes de preseance hyzantines des IXe etXe siecles: introduction , text, French translation and commen- 
tary (Le monde byzantin, Paris, 1972 ), 163. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


to be brought before them. At this point the patrician Constantine, the 
father of Thomas the logothete, a close friend of Basil because they were 
both of Armenian stock, noting that the place where the wrestlers were 
to contend was wet, scattered ashes and saw-dust on the fl oor to prevent 
them from slipping on the damp surface. When th is was done, Basil 
came to grips with the Bulgar, grasping and strangling him like a new- 
born child. He lifted him up as easily as though he were a truss of hay 
or a fleece of wool and threw him on the table. This pleased the Romans 
no end, while it filled the Bulgars with shame. From that day the fame of 
Basil spread throughout the capital and his newly acquired distinction 
was on everybody’s lips. 

8. lhen something happened which brought him even high er hon- 
ours. The emperor Michael had a stiff-necked and refractory horse which 
exceeded every other horse that had ever been admired in size, comeliness, 
speed and beauty of appearance. But if it were let off the rope or otherwise 
set free, then it was very difficult indeed to bring back to hand, giving the 
grooms much trouble to get it under control. [125] One day the emperor 
went out hunting mounted on this horse. He managed to strike a hare with 
his staff, then leapt from the saddle to kill the hare. Left unattended, the 
horse galloped and bounded away. A host of grooms, officials and others 
of the emperor’s retinue gave chase but nobody was able to catch the horse. 
In his anger the emperor ordered that, if the horse were taken, it was to 
be hamstrung. The caesar interceded with the emperor, begging him not 
to destroy su ch a magnificent steed in vain, for only one fault. While this 
discussion was taking place, Basil ran to his master and said: ‘If I were to 
overtake the emperor’s horse and, leaping from my own horse, were able to 
get astride of that one, would the emperor be angry with me for [sitting in] 
the imperial saddle and [handling] the purple bit and bridle?’ [Theophilos] 
whispered this in the emperor’s ear and he commanded it to be done. Basil 
skilfully spurred on his own horse in a direction parallel to the emperor’s 
then suddenly leapt up and transferred himself to the imperial horse, to 
the immense amazement of those who were present and witnessed the 
deed. The emperor was astonished at [Basil’s] competence and ability, not 
to mention his courage; he immediately relieved Iheophilitzes of him and 


is is the logothete of the drome (previously droungarios of the watch, says Iheophanes 
ContinuatuSj ed. Bekker, 150) mentioned above as the driver for the Greens in the races organ- 
ised. by Michael III. His son Thomas was, in his turn, logothete of the drome under Leo VI 
and during the minority of Constantine VII. Thomas was the father of the historian Genesios: 
A. Kaldellis, Introduction to the translation of Genesios (Canberra, 1998), xv— xvi. 


John Skylitzes : a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

enrolled him in his own corps of grooms. He rook great delight in him 
and, very shortly, promoted him to be head groom. u 

9. Another time, the emperor went out hunting near Philopation and 
his head groom rode before him bearing the emperor’s flail 3 ’ on his belt, 
at his side. When the company made a disturbance and let out a sh out, 
an exceedingly large wolf leapt out of the bush. Basil raced after it and 
let fly a blow at it with the emperor’s flail, [126] As luck would have it, he 
struck the beast in the middle of the head, splitting it in two. Following 
the emperor in the usual manner, the caesar, when he saw what had hap- 
pened, privately remarked to one of his associates: ‘My friend, I. do believe 
that this man will be the complete ruin of our dynasty.’ It is said that 
Leo the Philosopher prophesied this too. He called [Basil] by name and 
drew attention to some signs by pointing them out with his finger, fore- 
telling: ‘This one will be the ruin of your entire dynasty.’ 

10. Much as the caesar was trying to ensnare [Basil], he accomplished 
nothing, for it is exceedingly difficult to reverse something once it has been 
approved of by Providence. On another occasion, the emperor had crossed 
[the water] to go hunting at Armamenton;’ 4 after the hunt, he sat down to 
a banquet together with his mother, Theodora, some relatives and friends. 
At the emperor’s command, the head groom was also invited. Fastening 
her eyes upon him, the empress examined and inspected everything about 
him. Recognising a certain portent and sign on him, she immediately 
suffered an attack of vertigo an d fell do wn in a fainting fit. The emperor 
and his entourage were deeply disturbed; water and fragrant myrrh were 
brought immediately and, by sprinkling her with these, they brought the 
Sovereign Lady bac k fro m her calamity. As soon as she had regained her 
senses and emerged from the shades, the emperor, her son, asked her what 
had brought this sickness upon her. Scarcely herself again, she replied to 
her son in these words: ‘O child, this fellow you call Basil will bring about 
the disappearance of our dynasty, for I saw in him a sign of which I was 
made aware and forewarned some time ago by your father. [127] At the 
sight of it my head spun and I fell to the ground.’ But the emperor suc- 
ceeded in assuaging his mother’s fear, now using arguments to the con- 
trary, now supplying information reinforced with oaths. llius he was 


Protostrator\ this was an official title and it placed Basil among the inner circle of Michael’s 
associates. However, the title did not yet have the importance which it later acquired with the 
development of the cavalry. 

'' Bardaukian , a spiked, hall on a chain attached to the end of a staff. 

H The armamenton or arsenal was where ships were built lor the imperial navy, possibly close to the 
M agnau ra: R. Jan in, Constantinople byzantine ( AOC , 4 A, Paris, 1964), 314. This does not, how- 
ever, accord with our text as the emperor has to cross the straits to get to it. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


able to bring her back to her former state and to comfort her, saying: ‘My 
Sovereign Lady and mother, you should know that this is a generous man, 
of irresistible strength and with a spirit of incomparable nobility. He is 
faithful and devoted, to us and bears us no grudge whatsoever.’ And thus 
Basil escaped fro m that bad turn of fortune. 

it. Damian the Chamberlain was a eunuch and Scythian holding 
the rank of patrician. He was very reproachful of the emperor’s conduct 
because it was not of the standard required. He was especially reproach- 
ful of the conduct of [the emperor s] uncle, the caesar Bardas. Even the 
emperor (who was very Hull and sluggish in the discharge of government 
affairs) was brought to the point of opposing the caesar and disallowed 
some of his acts, meaning to improve on them. Ihis the caesar would not 
tolerate; he secretly conspired against Damian. He brought many accus- 
ations against him before the emperor and, since he managed to give 
them an air of credibility, he succeeded in diminishing the emperor s high 
esteem of Damian and getting him relieved of his office. With him dis- 
missed, the office of chamberlain stood vacant for some time. The caesar 
and his clientele proposed first this candidate then another but divine 
Providence, which determines all things according to His will, rendered 
every endeavour and all devising of no avail. Some time later the emperor 
appointed Basil to be chamberlain, promoted him to the rank of patrician 
and married him to a woman who exceeded all other women of her age 
in physical elegance, beauty and sobriety. She was the daughter of Inger, 
renowned for his astuteness and nobility, [128] a scion of the house of the 
Martiniakioi. When this happened, the caesar, raging with resentment, 
saw it as yet a further increase in the love which the emperor had for Basil; 
he feared for what was to come. He would often say to those who had 
prevailed upon him to get rid of Damian: ‘Th anks to your bad advice, T 
ch ased out the fox and let in the lion — who will now gobble up the lot of 
us in one bite.’ 

12. By the time the emperor Michael set out against Crete together with 
his uncle, the caesar Bardas, this man was annoying the emperor a little 
more every day by his increasingly heavy hand in affairs of state, in this 
way he also gave the emperor’s companions a pretext for intriguing against 

- The prophecy of The ophilos' time i s fulfilled (see Theophilos, c* 21 above). Eudokia ( PmbZ 1632) 
seems to have had a somewhat varied romantic life, in spite of Skylitzes* assertion of her chastity. 
She was at th is time the mistress of M ichael III. See (principally) C. Mango* ‘Eudocia Ingerina, 
the Normans and the Macedonian dynasty/ ARVl , xiv— xv (1973), 17—27, repr, Byzantium and its 
image (London, 1984), xv, and E. Kislinger, 'Eudocie Ingerina, Basiieios I und Michael IITj/Qi}, 
33 (1983), 119 -36. It is difficult to determine the precise date ol the marriage but, as Skylitzes says, 
it was after Basil was promoted chamberlain ro replace Damian in 864. 

128 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

him. There is a place on rhe coast just where the river Meander discharges 
its waters into the sea that is called The Gardens. It was here that plotting 
and planning by the emperor’s friends took place. They were in a hurry to 
eliminate Bardas as soon as possible so that they would not be overtaken 
[by him] and suffer worse than they might inflict. [He was slaughtered] 
clinging to the emperors feet, as the narrative expressly stated (above); 
it was the first day of April, fourteenth year of the indiction. As soon as 
Bardas was killed the emperor dispersed the army and turned his thoughts 
to returning home to th e capital. When he arrived at Byzantium, since 
he had no heir of his own, he adopted Basil and raised him to the rank of 

13, This was intolerable to the malicious Symbatios, logothete of the 
drome and son-in-law of the [late] caesar Bardas. Claiming that he could 
no longer live in the capital, he petitioned to be made commander of the 
Ihrakesion theme — which [129] appointment he received. A short time 
went by during which the administration of the empire was severely mis- 
managed, because the emperor’s mind was on anything other than the 
execution of state business. Also, the death of Bardas had laid bare his 
utter incompetence and simplicity. As [Michael’s] associate, Bardas had 
watched carefully over affairs of state and the administration in such a way 
that the emperor’s ineptitude was concealed. But once Bardas was slain 
an d the entire responsibility for the empire fell on the one emperor, then 
his incompetence and his lack of natural capability for state affairs stood 
out, clearly condemned. The common people started and continued to 
complain about the emperor. Neither the Senate nor the body politic as 
a whole was pleased with the way things were being done; even the army 
was troubled and disturbed. When the emperor was rendered cognisant 
of all this by those nearest to him, he realised that he was incapable of 
dealing with worldly undertakings and feared there might be an upris- 
ing. So he decided to take an associate with whom to share the power and 
the administration. As we said above, he had recently adopted Basil and 
he knew him to be distinguished above many others by his courage and 
intelligence; also that he was capable of compensating for [Michaels] own 
deficiency in piloting the ship of state. Since, moreover, he was prompted 
to do this by the Supreme Deity, he conferred upon Basil the distinction 
of imperial honour, renown and anointing on the holy day of Pentecost in 
the illustrious Church of the Wisdom of God. A public procession took 
place, then he placed the imperial crown on Basil’s head; this was on the 

^ Actually 21 April 866. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


twenty-sixth of May, fourteenth year of the indiction. When Symbatios 
heard of this [130] he did not take kindly to it; in association with the 
patrician Peganes, then commander of the Opsikion theme, he prepared 
to rebel. 17 They acclaimed the emperor Michael in order to win over the 
people and to avoid the appearance of raising their hands against the auto - 
krator , but they insulted Basil, heaping insolence upon him; this was in 
the summer. Then the arrival of winter dispersed their support and the 
leaders of this madness fled for their lives, Symbatios to the strong and 
easily defensible fortress of Plateia Petra 19 in Asia, Peganes to Kotyaeon. 40 
Nevertheless, shortly afterwards they were successfully assailed and 
brought before the emperor himself as prisoners. Their eyes were put out, 
Symbatios’ right hand was cut off, Peganes’ nose was slit and then they 
were sent off into exile, 

14. All the subjects of the Roman empire rejoiced at the proclamation of 
Basil [as emperor] for they yearned to see sitting at the helm of the empire 
a man who well knew from his own experience how the simple people were 
afflicted by the rich and powerful. Michael’s regime was pain and grief to 
them; all softness and luxury with nothing else to do but indulge in ‘riot- 
ing and drunkenness’, 11 point-to-point horse racing, playing the fool and 
other worn-out old tricks. All this, as I stated above briefly in passing, 
emptied the imperial treasury prodigiously on catamites, harpists, dan- 
cers and a host of other licentious folk. From this [extravagance] the busi- 
ness of the Roman government came into a parlous state and so did the 
emperor, for want ot funds. At a loss [131] what to do, he devised some 
unjust taxes to supply his need. He laid unholy hands on things which it 
was altogether prohibited for him to touch. He and a pack of defiled and 
licentious transvestites even went so far as to ridicule the Godhead! There 
was nothing unmentionable which was not committed in word or deed by 
him and the like-minded consorts who bore him company. Basil wished 
to turn him aside from this inappropriate behaviour and tried many times 





Symbatios was strategos of the Thrakesion theme, hence it was in the western part of Asia Minor 
that the rebellion broke out* On George Peganes: PmbZ 22 63 — PBE Georgies 57* 

Summer 866. This revolt has recently been studied by A* Dapergolas* 'La revoke du stratege 
Symbatios et de George Peganes dans Pete H 66 \ r^e Congres panbellenique ( Ihessalonlke, 1994), 
13—25, Ike author opines that Basil was much less popular with the troops of Asia Minor than 
Bardas, who had several times led them to victory. Yet neither the chronology of this uprising nor 
the motives of the insurgents are clearly understood. 

The location of this fortress is unsure, hut it was on the border between the Opsikion and 
Th rakesion themes, 

A fortress of considerable importance, today Kutahya: K. Belke and N. Mersich, Phrygian und 
Pisidien (TIB, 7, Vienna, 1990), 312—16. 

Rom. 13:13. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

to do so; he not only failed, but rather provoked the emperor to anger and 
to devise sinister and monstrous intrigues against him, as we said above. 

15. Alarmed by the incessant plotting and scheming against him, Basil 
endeavoured to take the initiative before he fell victim himself. He pro- 
vided hims elf with some associates, relations and soldiers who were 
guards of the imperial bedchamber and then slew Michael in the palace 
of St Mamas, the Great Martyr. Thus Michael came to the end of a life 
of undisciplined extravagance. Basil was immediately proclaimed sole 
ruler: first by the conspirators, then by the Senate, the imperial regiments, 
the entire army and the people of the City. 42 Immediately on acceding to 
the supreme command he convened the Senate and the ranking dignitar- 
ies and had the imperial treasury opened. Where there had once been so 
much wealth, now there was nothing more to be found (as we said above) 
than three mere kentenaria. The emperor sought the record of expend- 
itures and found it in the care of an old eunuch. 43 Once he could see where 
the money had gone, he put the matter before a meeting of those of high 
standing. They gave [132] their unanimous decision that those who had 
received [funds] illegally were to return them to the treasury. Basil, how- 
ever, very generously ordered that a half of what each one had received 
was to be returned to the imperial paymaster. 44 Thus there accrued to 
the public purse from those people three hundred kentenaria of gold. 4 ^ 
The emperor then went in public procession to the Great Church of the 
Wisdom of the Word of God and on the way back he scattered a consider- 
able amount of money to the crowd, money not from the public treasury 
but from his own purse. 46 Th ere also accrued to him a large amount of 
unexpected money, from treasure coming to light that had been hidden 
in the ground. 47 There was also found in the private apartments no small 
amount of gold which the former emperor, Michael, had collected when 
he had that renowned plane tree melted down, the two golden griffins, the 
two lions of beaten gold, the solid gold organ, various pieces of gold work 


The Chronicle of the Logothete, (Sym corns magistri , 257-9) gives a fuller account of the taking of the 
palace. After the assassination Basil anti his companions cross the Golden Horn, stop at the house 
of Eulogios the Persian and then, with the cooperation of Artavasdes, comma nd er of the guard, 
they get into the outer precinct of the palace, seize the keys from the Pap i as and open the door. 

4 ’ Basil the protospatharios, 

A usurper must show moderation in his con fiscal ions* 

2.176 million pieces of gold, equal to 9,900 kgs at 4*55 g to the nomisma. 

41 Another excellent move on the part of a usurper who must show his interest in the common good. 
John Tzimiskes did likewise: reign of John Tzimiskes, c* 5. 

47 On the legislation concerning treasure trove, seeC. Morrisson, 'La decouverte des tresorsa lepoque 
Byzantine: theorie et pratique’, TM> 8 (1981), 321—43, repr. Monnaie et finances k Byzance: analyses , 
techniques (Aldershot, 1994), vm Under Basil all treasure trove went to the public purse. 



Basil I the Macedonian 

13 1 

for use at table and even the robes for emperors and their ladies. 4 * 5 He was 
going to use all that to satisfy his desires, but fate determined otherwise 
and it passed to Basil; more about that, however, later. 

16. As soon as Basil came to power, first of all he chose and appointed 
to the leading positions men who could not be corrupted and who had 
the reputation of keeping their hands clean from all bribe-taking. 49 Then 
he turned his attention to justice, instituting equity among his subjects 
and striving to prevent the rich from lording it over the poor. He prom- 
ulgated regulations prescribing the total elimination of [133] injustice; he 
appointed judges, providing them with living allowances and all kinds of 
emoluments. He ordered that they were to be in court every day, settling 
the differences between litigants. He also provided suitable locations for 
them, the Magnaura, the [building] called the Hippodrome and the 
[Gate] known as Chalke, dilapidated by the passage of time and now more 
in danger of falling down than ever, so he refurbished and renovated it. 
He stipulated a living allowance for the poorer litigants so that they wo uld 
not be obliged by want to withdraw from their cases. When he was free 
from military affairs and from receiving the embassies which came from 
all parts, he too would devote himself to the hearing of cases. He would 
go down to what they call the genikon to examine those who were under 
investigation by the treasury, to see whether anybody was being investi- 
gated unjustly; in this way he used to come to the assistance of those who 
were suffering undeservedly. They say that once when he went down to 
perform the task just mentioned there was nobody before the tribunal. 
Suspecting that somebody was preventing the needy from coming before 
him, he sent gendarmes into many parts of the city to seek for anybody 
who was in need. When they returned saying that they had not been able 
to find any person whomsoever, [the emperor] shed tears of joy and gave 

48 This accusation has already be levelled: reign of Michael III, c. 10* Michael could not have 
destroyed all his father’s treasures because some of the wonders were still in operation in the next 
century when Liutprand of Cremona saw them : ODB y I, 235, 

40 The Vita Bast lit says nothing of any hostile reactions to Basil, yet Niketas Ooryphas, droungarios 
of the fleet, was prepared to avenge the dead emperor when he heard of the death o f Michael IIL 
Basil succeeded in winning him over sometime later though: pseudo-Symeon the Logothete, 687* 
Ooryphas took part in the recapture of Bari, see c* 2 6 below* 

40 [udges were paid by the litigants on both sides; thus every reform aimed at providing a sufficient 
salary irom the state with the intention of reducing the judges’ demands for money on those who 
appealed to them. Andronikos 1 Komnenos (1183—5) attempted a similar reform. 
sr This is the covered Hippodrome: R. Cut I land, Etudes de topographic de Constantinople hyzantine 
(Amsterdam, 1969), 1, 199, It is from this central court that the expression 'Hippodrome judge’ 
arises. These ecu Id b e commissioned to serve as provincial judges on occasion too* 

S2 Basil wants to follow' in the footsteps of Theophilos, justice being one of the prime virtues in a 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

thanks to God. He did, however, notice that there was some opportunity 
for wicked men to act unjustly in the method of expressing fractions (half, 
sixth, twelfth and so forth) when the scribes used the old shorthand signs; 
he decided to suppress this opportunity of cheating completely. So he stip- 
ulated that henceforth [fractions] were to be expressed by simple letters of 
the alphabet which co uld b e easily read by the peasants. 1 : He also took it 
upon himself to pay the cost of the parchment and writing [materials] plus 
the scribes’ fees. He also changed the direction of ecclesiastical affairs by 
expelling from his archbishopric [134] Photios the usurper, at a meeting of 
the Synod. He was ordered into retirement until God should remove his 
legitimate predecessor from this life. [Basil] reinstated Ignatios who had 
been wickedly and uncanonically removed by Bardas, Thus he conferred 
calm on the churches of God.'' 1 Seeing, moreover, that the civil law was 
tar fro m clear and in a state of confusion, he made haste to reform it in an 
appropriate manner. He deleted some laws because they were obsolete and 
reduced the number of the laws still in force. Death intervened too soon, 
so this undertaking was completed by Leo, his son and successor. 

17. In the first year of Basil’s reign there was a conspiracy against him 
instigated by the patricians George and Symbatios.^ 6 When the crime was 
detected and damning evidence came to light, they had their eyes put out 
for being the initiators of the plot; the entire company of the rest of the 
conspirators was paraded before the public and sent into exile. To cut short 
the machinations of other would-be emperors, he crowned Constantine 
and Leo, his own sons, and in the third year of his sole reign he proclaimed 

This means that fractions were to be written out as words, which pro bably exaggerates the ability 
of peasants to read. Yet this reform may have produced some results, 

54 In fact Basil had participated (in his role of co-emperor) in the synod of summer 867 and 
had signed its Acts, That synod which took place before the murder of Michael was Photios 1 
moment of triumph. The acts of that synod were later destroyed on Basil s orders. There is now 
only one contemporary account of it, Photios 1 eighteenth homily: C, Mango, I he Homilies 
of Photius , patriarch of Constantinople: English translation , introduction and commentary 
(Cambridge, MA, 1958), 297—315, Basil immediately deposed Photios when he became sole 
emperor, using the permanent synod, endemousa: J, Hajjar, Le synod permanent (Sunodos ende - 
mo us a) dans VEglise hyzantine au XI e siecle (Rome, 1962). Ignatios was solemnly reinstalled 
on 23 November 867: G. Dagron, Histoire du christianisme , IV, Eveques > moines et empereurs 
(&io—io$q) 7 ed. G, Dagron, P, Riche and A, Vauchez (Paris, 1993), 176—7, 

Basil undertook to reclassify the judicial material in the Corpus iuris civilis , The sixty books of the 
new law code, called the ‘imperial laws' {basilika) y were eventually completed under Leo VI by 
Christmas 888: A, Schminck, Suhseciva Groningana , 3 (1989), 90—3, 

Skylitzes' presentation is a bit clumsy from a chronological point of view. This is the revolt of 
Symbatios, strategos of the Thrakesion theme and of Peganes, count of the Opsikion theme 
already mentioned above. This revolt took place after Basil's coronation but before his sole rule 

Basil I the Macedonian 


[emperor] his third son, Alexander. 57 Stephen, the youngest of all his sons, 
he dedicated to and enrolled in the church of God. As he also had four 
daughters; these he dedicated to the sacred monastery of the universally 
praised martyr Euphemia/ 8 

18. [1345] When he had settled the affairs of state to his satisfaction, 
he hastened to make war on the forces which were hostile to the Roman 
state/' The strength of the army had been diminished under Michael, 
the former ruler, by the reduction of pay and provisions. Basil now filled 
up the ranks by the recruitment of young men and marched out against 
the barbarians. First he marched to Tephrike, which was in the hands of 
Chrysocheir, 60 a man who, seeming to excel in bold ness and cunning, fre- 
quently made inroads on Roman territory and pillaged it. The emperor 
directed his attack against this man and that city; the enemy, unable to 
withstand him, took refuge within the walls. The emperor overran and 
pillaged all the land under Chrysocheir and set up camp against the wall 
of Tephrike, thinking that he would take the fortification by a protracted 
siege. But when he realised that it was strongly fortified at all points and 
that it was hopeless to reduce it by siege, and also that they were running 
short of everything that might be taken from the land, he lifted the siege 
after sacking the fortified towns near Tephrike: Abara, Koptos, Spathe 

57 Constantine, Basil's first and favourite son, was the child of his first marriage but S* Tougher, The 
reign of Leo VI (886—912): politics and people (Leiden, 1997), 42-67, and R Grierson (DOC, m, 
474) think he (as well as Leo) was borne by Eudokia Ingerina* This view has the support of sources 
hostile to Basil which portray Constantine as a son of Michael when they speak of his demise: e.g. 
George the Monk, Theophanes Continuatus , ed. I. Bekker (CSHR, Ronn, 1838 ), 844, However, it 
looks as though Constantine was considerably older than his brothers. He was associated with 
the purple between November 867 and February 868; Leo was not associated until 6 January 
870 and Alexander not until after the death of Constantine, between September and November 
879: DOC , ill, 1:473—5, 

Basil may have been concerned that no family gain undue importance by supplying him with a 
son-in-law* The church in question is St Euphemia of Petrion, which became a family monas- 
tery where many relatives of Basil were interred: R* Jan in, La geographic ecclesiastique de l 'empire 
hyzantin , 1 : La siege de Constantinople et le patriarcai cecum enique , Tri: Les eglises et les monas teres de 
V empire hyzantin (Paris, 1969 ), 127—9. 

59 The campaign of 871 follows the audacious raids of Chrysocheir who thrust as far as Nikomedia 
and Ephesus, following the collapse of negotiations w r ith Peter of Sicily the year before* The report 
of that embassy is the only major source extant on the Paulicians: P* Lemerle, TTiistoire des 
Pauliciens dAsie Mineure dapres les sources grecques\ TM> 5 ( 1973 ), t— T 44, at T03. For the text 
see T'Histoire de Pierre de Sicile', ed. P* Lemerle TM, chs. 4 and 5, p. 8 (translation) and p. 9 
(Greek text)* 

Karbeas (already mentioned, reign of Michael 1 1, c* 8) who had founded the Paulician army died 
in 863 (this had nothing to do with the defeat and death of his ally Amr, emir of Melitene)* 
Karbeas was succeeded without difficulty by Chrysocheir, his nephew a nd son-in-law: Lemerle, 
Pauliciens , 95—6* 

Ab ara was a fortress on the road to Sebasteia, south of Tephrike: E. Honigmann, Die Qstgrenze 
des byzantinischen Reiches von 3 6\—ioji nach griechischen , arabisehen , syrischen und armenischen 



134 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

and many others. He gathered up the army and came hack from there 
with glorious trophies and much booty. While the territory surrounding 
Tephrike was being laid waste and sacked, its neighbouring town, called 
Taras, which was in the h ands of the Ishmaelites and had a defensive alli- 
ance and joint enterprise with [136] Tephrike, apprehensive of the danger it 
was in, sent a delegation to sue for peace and asking to be enlisted as con- 
federates, fighting with the Romans. The emperor gave the delegation a 
mild reception and the request was granted. Then there was KourtikiosA 
an Armenian by race, master of Lokana, 64 who frequently sacked and dev- 
astated the Roman borcier regions; he delivered himself, his city and the 
people under him into the emperor’s hands. Meanwhile the emperor sent 
a body of choice warriors against the [town] called Zapetra and they took 
Samosata too, by falling on it in a sudden attack after passing through 
a narrow defile. The city was taken by surprise; many of the people were 
slain and an innumerable host was led into captivity while [some] Roman 
prisoners were freed of the fetters they had worn for a long time. Ihis 
expeditionary force put the adjacent territory to the flames and sacked 
Samosata. In the same forward thrust they crossed the Euphrates, took 
all the people on the further bank captive, collected a great quantity of 
prisoners and booty, then returned safe and sound to the emperor who 
was now encamped on the river Atzarnouk. Then the emperor broke camp 
and travelled the road to Melitene with the whole army. When he reached 
the Euphrates, he found it in full summer flood and quite impassable, 
so he had a bridge built by which he crossed over. Much of the country- 
side was sacked and laid waste; a fortified town named Rhapsakion was 
taken, then a portion of the army was detached with orders to overrun 
the territory between Arsinos and the Euphrates. They rushed through 
it with remarkable rapidity, sacking a town [137] called Karkikion, then 
Chachon, Aman, Mourex and Abdela. 57 The emperor himself pressed on 
to Melitene, well populated at that time and illustrious for its multitude 

Qiiellen (CBHB, 3, Brussels, 1935), 56, Koptos, perhaps the present Koubdin, was also to the south 
of Tephrike, halfway to A bra* According to the E scoria 1 taktikon , Koptos was the seat of a strate- 
gos a century later: Oikonomides, Lisies y 359. Of Spa the nothing is known* 

Taras is the present Derende, the Byzantine laranta, situated three days' march west of VI el Irene. 
It was the seat of a strateg os: Oikonomides, Listes , 359* 

'■ Ancestor of the Kourtikioi who provided so many officers for the empire: A. P. Kazhdan, Armjane 
v sostave gospodstvujuscego k lass a vizantijskoj imperii v XI— XII vv. (Erivan, 1975), 14— 17. 

4 Location uncertain. 

65 The insertion of Samosata at this point confuses the sense of the passage; might it be an 

66 Elsewhere written as Chlascon, Glaschon, Glachon. 

67 For possible identification of these places: Honigmann, Qstgrenze s 59— do. 

Basil I the Macedonian 

J 35 

of barbarians. When he approached the walls, he encountered some 
columns of barbarian infantry which attacked, snorting and yelling at 
him. The emperor engaged them boldly, himself at the head of his troops, 
an d th rew them back, while the other troops pursued the rest of them 
right to the city, killing so many of them that the intervening space was 
strewn an d filled with corpses. More than a few were captured alive: the 
rest shut themselves up ingloriously within the walls. The emperor wished 
to take the place with siege engines, but then he realised how well the 
city was provided with towers and with what defending forces the walls 
bristled. When he learnt from deserters that they had an abundance of 
the necessities of life and feared nothing from a protracted siege, he struck 
camp and marched against the land of the Manichees. Everything wher- 
ever they went was reduced to ashes; the fortified towns called Argaouth, 
Koutakios, Stephanos and Arachach went up in flames. He then gath- 
ered up his army and made his way to the capital. He honoured the most 
distinguished of the soldiers and dismissed them while he himself went on 
to the capital, passing through Thrace. He went in a solemn public pro- 
cession from Hebdomon and through the Golden Gate, celebrating the 
most magnificent of triumphs, all the people acclaiming him with songs 
of victory and rousing cheers. He proceeded to the Church of the personi- 
fied Wisdom of God;' 9 there he offered hymns of thanksgiving to God 
and was adorned with crowns of victory by Ignatios, the patriarch. Then 
he returned to the palace where, [138] after a brief respite with his wife and 
children, he occupied himself again with matters of state. 

19. In the following year Chrysocheir, the chieftain of the Manichees, 
invaded Roman territory with a powerful army and devastated it, 7C 5 Th e 
emperor sent the officer commanding the scholai 71 as usual. He took w ith 
him the entire Roman army but, since he was afraid to risk the whole 
enterprise on one formal battle, he followed [Chrysocheir] at a certain dis- 
tance for the time being, putting a stop to some inroads and not allow- 
ing them to rampage through the countryside with impunity. Having met 
with some success and some reverses, the barbarian was thinking of going 

68 The form Argaouth is found too, both in Skylitzes and in Theophanes Continuatus * It should be 
Argaoun. Theophanes Continuatus calls the place Rachat. 

On Basils triumph (which was meant to rival the triumphs celebrated by the Amorion 
dy 11 a s t y) : M . M cC o r m ic k, Ei erna l vi c to ry: t ri u rn p ha l ru le rsh ip i n late a ntiqui iy , Byza n tiu m , and 
th e ea rly m edi eval wes t (( 1 a m bridge, M A , 1 9 8 ( > )> 

70 He penetrated as far as Ankyra: Lemerle, Pauli cians 7 103. 

" j Christopher, gambros to the emperor (the husband of a daughter or, more probably, a sister of 
Basil who, as we saw, had shut his daughters away in a convent), had succeeded Marianos, t he 
emperor s brother* 

136 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

back home and set off with a great deal of booty. The domestic of the 
scholai detailed two of the commanders, those of the Charsianon and 
the Armeniakon themes, and their forces to go along with Chrysochcir as 
far as the place named Bathyrryax. 71 If he were to send his troops against 
the Roman border lan ds (said the emperor), then they had to let him know 
about it; but if [the enemy] made to go directly home, they were to let 
them be and return to the main body of the army. Evening came and the 
barbarian army was at Bathyrryax, encamped at the foot of the mountain. 
While the commanders mentioned above (who occupied a more elevated 
position) were waiting to see what the future would bring, a contention 
and rivalry arose between the two thematic armies concerning the mat- 
ter of seniority. Those of the Charsianon held that to them belonged the 
primacy for courage while the men of the Armeniakon theme claimed 
it for themselves. [ he rivalry was becoming increasingly intense as each 
company gave free rein to its boasting when (so they say) this was said by 
somebody from the Armeniakon side: ‘Fellow soldiers, why this unseemly 
and pointless boasting [139] when we can prove our worth beyond all 
doubt by deeds? Tie enemy is at hand; it is possible for the better men 
to be revealed in action.’ The commanders bore these words in mind 
and took note of the mens desire to show their courage. They were also 
aware of their advantageous position, in that they were about to attack 
from high ground an enemy lying in a hollow. They divided their forces 
into two, of which one, consisting of about six hundred picked men 74 led 
by the commanders themselves, was to attack the barbarian army. The 
remainder, the greater portion of the Roman army, was stationed on the 
heights in such a way as to appear even more numerous than it really was. 
It was agreed that when the smaller group attacked the enemy, the larger 
one was to raise a frightening pandemonium with loud shouts and bray- 
ing of trumpets (to which the mountains would give echo). The [smaller 
portion] approached the enemy camp under cover of night, unseen. The 
sun had not yet caressed the mountain tops when the agreed signal was 
given and a great paean of shouting broke out with cries of ‘the Cross 


This is the first mention of a strategos of Charsianon, previously a mere kleisoura. 

M eaning 'deep stream This was the usual base camp {aplekton) when a campaign againsr the 
Paulicians was being conducted: Constantine Porphyrogenitus: three treatises on imperial mili- 
tary expeditions : introduction , edition , translation and commentary , ed. J. K Haldon (CFHB, 28, 
Vienna, 1990), 80* 

This number gives some idea of the size of the forces on either side: surely no more than a few 
thousa nd men. On the strengths of the Byzantine army: J.-C . Cheynet, 4 Les effeetits de Farmee 
byzantine (Xe— Xlle) C ah iers de Civilisation Medic vale , 38/4 (1995)* 319—35 = Cheynet, Aristocracy^ 

no. xii. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


has conquered!’ as they attacked the enemy, while the rest of the troops 
up in the mountains joined in raising the battle-cry. The barbarians were 
immediately dismayed by the hopelessness of the situation; they did not 
take time to get themselves organised or to estimate the strength of the 
opposing forces. Unable on the spur o f the moment to dev ise any plan to 
save themselves, they began to retreat. The pursuing Romans called upon 
the absent commanders and units plus the officer commanding the scholai, 
according to orders. The fugitives became ever more afraid and troubled as 
they were pursued to a distance of thirty miles, the intervening country- 
side being strewn with innumerable corpses. It was then that the ruthless 
Chrysocheir (who was running away with a few of his followers) recog- 
nised the Roman who was pursuing him as a man named Poulades whom 
he had once held prisoner at Tephrike and with whom he had associated 
and thus become acquainted because he was so cultured and charming. 
Having seen and recognised him, he turned round and said: ‘What harm 
have I done you, wretched Poulades, that you pursue me insanely like this, 
anxious to do away with me?’ The other snapped back: ‘I have full confi- 
dence [140] in God, sir, that this very day 1 am to deliver you the reward 
of your good deeds.’ [Chrysocheir] rode on like somebody whose wits 
had b een deranged by a stroke of lightning while the other pursued [him] 
with the recklessness of youth, fust as the fugitive found himself facing a 
deep ditch over which he could not let his horse jump, he was struck from 
behind by Poulades who had caught up to him, a blow in the side with a 
javelin. His head spun from the pain and he fell from the saddle. One of 
his company, whose name was Diakonitzes, 75 leapt from his horse to tend 
the fallen man, laying his head on his own knees and lamenting what had 
happened. Meanwhile Pou lad es was joined by others, who dismounted 
and cut off the head of Chrysocheir who was already in his death throes 
and giving up the ghost. They bound Diakonitzes and set him among the 
other prisoners. Reports were immediately sent to the emperor and the 
head of Chrysocheir with them. With the fall of Chrysocheir the flour- 
ishing manhood of Tephrike withered away. Such was the conclusion of 
the Tephrike affair; in one hour the great multitude of the Manichaeans, 
lifted up to the very pinnacle of glory, was dissipated like smoke. 76 

20. Ignatios departed this present life, and the emperor immediately 
handed back the church to Photios. 7 

* Hi is Paulician would live to light magnificently in southern Italy under the command of 
Nikephoros Phokas the elder: see below, c. 38* 

Ps. 67:3, LXX* 77 Ignatios died on 23 October 877, 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

21. Then a plot was revealed to the emperor by one of the conspirators; 
the patrician Romanos Kourkouas was at the head of it. 78 When the con- 
spirators had been arrested, Kourkouas was blinded while the others were 
beaten, tonsured and sent into exile. 

22. [141] The emperor himself repossessed the fortress of Loulon which 
the Saracens had captured. 79 To this he added, [the fortress] of Melouos, 80 
which acknowledged the authority of the emperor. He also personally rav- 
aged Kama," the Manichaeans’ capital. 

23. When the light of spring began to shine, he set out on campaign 
against Syria taking his oldest son, Constantine, with him. He reached 
Caesarea close to Argeon, the first [city] of Cappadocia, and there pitched 
his camp. He set the greater part of the army to work at military exercises 
but sent a detachment out to reconnoitre, himself following in their train. 
The scouts and forerunners quickly traversed the desert regions, destroy- 
ing the fortress called Psilokastron and the one called Phyrokastron 
and taking their occupants prisoner. The occupants of the fortress of 
Phalakros were so alarmed that they voluntarily surrendered themselves 
to the Romans. Apabdele, son of AmbronT emir of Anabarzos, 87 boldly 
played the barbarian as long as the emperor was a long way off; but when 
he drew near, he joined the fleeing garrison of Melitene, seeking safety 
in flight like them. The emperor destroyed Kasarma, Karva, Ardala and 
Eremosykea. 88 It was th en that the renowned Sernas, son of Tael, 89 who 
held the unapproachable fastnesses of the Taurus from which he had been 

Ihc conspiracy of John Ko urkouas took place at the end of Basil s reign, see below. 

Tliis was in 877; it opened up a new route by which the Romans could attack Tarsus, via the 




Podandos pass. Loulon was a link in the chain of fire signals: reign of Michael III , c* 19. 

Milva n Kale today, 18 km south-east of Podandos: R Hi Id and M . Restle, Kappadokien 
( Kappadokia , Charsianon , Sebasteia und Lykandos) (TIB, 2, Vienna, 1981), 82. 

The name is deformed: Theophanes Continuatus , ecL Bekker, 278, gives Katavatala. This cannot be 
the Kama, 80 km south-west of Erzican: Hild and Restle Kappadokien , 82, n* 209, 

Since Constantine was s till al ive, this campaign has to be dated 878* 

Tli is type of operation (which meant sending detachments out some distance from the main 
army) is well described for Muslim expeditionary forces in the Traite sur la guerre de course edited 
in the tenth century: Traite , ed. Dagron and Mihaescu, c, x* 

Vi One of these two strongholds on the road from Caesarea to Melitene might be identified w it h 
Melik i ran Kalcsi; Hild and Restle, Kappadokien , 237* 

85 Agiloren today, to the south of Mount Argeon: Hild and Restle, Kappadokien , 257—8. 

8Cl AbdAdlah, the son of Amr, 

7 The usual form of the name is Anazarbos. It is one of the main strongholds of Cilicia, protecting 

the capital of the emirate at Tarsus : R Hild and H* Hellenkemper, Kilikien und Isaurien (TIB, 

Vienna, T990), 178—85. 

S8 ^ 

is list of for tie ts of no great importance is included to inflate the magnitude of Basils success* 
Sy Sima al-Twawil, emir of Tarsus : A. A* Vasiliev, Byzance et les A rabes, I: La dynastic d Am avium , 
820—867 (Brussels, 1935); II: Les relations politiques de Byzance etdes arabes a Tepoque de la dynastic 
m a cedo n i en n e> e d . M. Canard (CBHB 2, 1, Brussels, 1968), 11/1:87. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


wasting the Romans’ border lands, fled to the emperor for refuge. Then 
the emperor crossed the river Onopniktes, the Saros too, 90 and came to 
Koukousos with his army. He cleaned out the brush that was there, 
turned the pathless waste [142] into a serviceable road and captured the 
hideouts that were there. When he got to Kalipolis and Padasia, finding 
very bad and hilly roads, he himself went at the head of the army, walking 
on foot to encourage his men. When he had passed through the passes of 
the Taurus he attacked Germanicaea. The opposing forces had all bar- 
ricaded themselves within the walls and nobody ventured to confront [the 
Romans]. So the [emperor] set fire to and destroyed the desirable prop- 
erties outside the city then moved on to the city of Adata. Here too the 
inhabitants would not fight in the open but hid within the walls, so the 
emperor laid waste and reduced to ashes all that was outside the wa lls. He 
then invested the small town ca lied G eron; he let his soldiers pillage then 
attacked the walls of the city, bringing up all kinds of machines, ihe siege 
was conducted with vigour because he had good hopes of taking the city, 
given the size of his forces. But he found that those within were putting 
up stiff resistance and were bearing their afflictions boldly, so he declared a 
truce and asked the defenders the reason for their confidence and why they 
obviously considered him with so little regard, even though their city was 
about to be taken. One of the elders replied that they were informed that 
their city would not be taken by him; fate dictated that it would be taken 
by somebody else of the same race whose name was Constantine. This was 
why they were not dismayed by their afflictions. The emperor showed them 
his son and told them his name was Constantine, to which the informant 
replied that it was not this Constantine who would overturn their city 
but another, some time later, one of [Basils] descendants. 94 These words 
angered the emperor; now he intensified the siege, intending to condemn 
the prophecy as false by his deeds. But in spite of everybody’s valiant effort, 
he could see that no progress was being made; also the weather turned bit- 
terly cold, to the intense discomfort of men out in the open air, so he raised 

The Tzamanti so an d the Seyan. 

Present Goksun, halfway between Caesarea and Germanicaea* Basil installed himself in the heart 
o f the faunas mountains* 

n Today, Marash in the Anti-taurus, on the edge of the Mesopotam ian plain, control I ing one of the 
main routes into Syria* Germanicaea was the birthplace of Nestor ius and ol Leo III the I saurian; 
it was much fought over by Romans and Arabs in the eighth and ninth centuries: ODB , II, 845* 

9 ' Today Seraykoy, north-east of C iermanicaea, commanding one of the passes into Cappadocia: 
G. Dagron and H. Minaescu, Le traite sur la guerilla de iempereur Nicephore Phocas (Paris, 1986), 

I2 5* 

^ Obv iously a reference to Basil *s grandson, Constantine VII, under whom (in 957) Ada ta was per- 
manently conquered and then became the centre of a sma 11 th eme: Oikonomides, Listes y 359. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

the siege. As they were about to turn back, he disencumbered himself by 
commanding most of the prisoners who were impeding his progress to be 
put to the sword, then he took the road to the capital, leaving the sons of 
Hagar greatly afraid. [143] In anticipation of attack, he set up ambushes 
in the passes at suitable points and captured many who had been lying 
in wait hoping to surprise him. For that reason the resistance of the local 
chief, Abdelomelcr,’ 5 collapsed and he sent a delegation suing for secur- 
ity and peace. The emperor acceded to his request and from then on had 
him as a willing ally against his own people. Passing through Argeon he 
came to Caesaraea, where he received news of victory from Koloneia and 
Mesopotamia. He also took delivery of much booty and of many captive 
Kurds and Saracens, whom he had put to the sword, every one, because 
the army was already encumbered with much booty and many prisoners 
from Syria and Tephrike and he did not want to take along the additional 
burden, an impediment to further action. When he came to Medaeion 97 
and had distributed awards to those who had distinguished themselves, he 
sent them into winter quarters and himself, lightly armed, went towards 
the capital. He received the customary crown of victory from the patriarch 
and triumphal songs from the multitude.^ 8 

24. With Tephrike going into decline the vigour of Tarsus began to blos- 
som a ndfl ourish and, once again, the borders of Roman territory began 
to suffer severely. The general Andrew, a Scyth in origin, frequently went 
boldly against them, killing and taking prisoner many of those who came 
a-raiding. The emperor honoured him with the title of patrician and pro- 
moted him to the command of the scholai. Now that he enjoyed higher 
authority and disposed of greater forces, Andrew attacked and frequently 
defeated the people of Melitene and Tarsus in illustrious battles. There 
came a time when the emir of Tarsus sent a letter (full of blasphemy) to 
Andrew which said: ‘I will see whether the son of Mary or she who bore 
him will help you in any way when [144] I march out against you with my 
forces.’ When Andrew received this abusive letter he hung it on the icon of 

There is no mention of this name in the Arab sources* 

96 Skylitzes here departs from the text of the Vita Basilii * Theophanes Continuatus, 283, where it is 
stated that Basil had received intelligence from Koloneia and from Loulon and that the mass of 
capti ves consisted oi people from Ta rsus and of Manichees: Lemerle,. Pauli dans , 106—7* 

97 Located not too far from the great m ilita ry camp at Dory la ion: Belke and Mersich, Phrygian und 
Pis i die n, 341—2. 

For a description of this triumph, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Haldon, commentary: McCormick, 
Eternal victory, 212—22* 

99 Andrew had previously been count oi the Opsikion theme: W* Seibt, Die byzaniinischen Bleisiegel 
in Osierreichy 1, Kaiserhof{ Vienna, 1978), 242. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


the Mother of God, declaring: ‘Behold, mother of the Word and of God; 
and do you, her son and God, behold; behold how this insulting barbarian 
disparages and abuses both you and the people who are special to you.’ 1 
Having said these words, he assembled the Roman forces and marched 
out against Tarsus. He advanced to Podandos and there joined battle 
with the enemy. The barbarian host was put to flight with great loss of 
life, the emir himself taking an early fall. Only a few, and they with great 
difficulty, found refuge in Tarsus. [Andrew] buried his own people, then 
his opponents in a single mass grave, and had a great column erected on 
it as a memorial for later generations, after which he returned to his base 
with plenty of booty and prisoners. He wrote to the emperor reporting the 

25. But just as usually happens where envy is at work, evil men maligned 
him before the emperor saying that just when it would have been easy for 
him to have taken Tarsus he had failed to grasp the opportune moment 
through sloth and negligence. Ihis was said so often chat the emperor 
came to believe it and relieved the man of his command, appointing a 
man named Stypeiotes ' in his stead. This man promised (among many 
other impossible feats) that he would take Tarsus. He assembled the forces 
without delay and marched them off against Tarsus with no plan of cam- 
paign in mind whatsoever, indeed with no clear intention. When he got 
near to Tarsus he stopped for the night at a place called Chrysoboullon but 
he made nothing worth calling an earthwork or a fortified encampment. 
1 he people of Tarsus received intelligence reports that he was heedlessly 
lying there, so they attacked him by night using the following stratagem. 
Tiey had been reduced in numbers by their defeat at the hands of Andrew 
and were insufficient for a formal battle, so th ey gathered together a large 
number of horses, to the tails of which they attached dried pelts and set 
them on fire. At a given signal [145] they loosed these beasts at several 
points around the Roman encampment. Coming behind them, in charged 
the men of Tarsus with naked swords, making a great din with trumpets 
and drums. Fear and trembling now afflicted the Roman army. Horses 
and men were equally afraid and kept running into each other, so that 
the barbarians were able to get the upper hand and to inflict unlimited 




Tliis refers to ExotL 19:5, Deut* 7:6, 14:2, 26:18, meaning Israel. 

A fortress commanding a pass which led into Cilicia: Hild and Restle, Kappadokien , 261—2* It 
was at the centre o f the publ ic domains or episkepsis : reign of John Tzimiskes, c. 12. 

Hi is is the first mention of a member ui that family which was to provide the state w it h so many 
officers, into the era of the Palaio logoi: O. Kresten, *Zum Sturz des Theodores Styppeiotes’,yOi?, 
27 (1978), 49-103. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

slaughter on the Romans, most of whom perished ingloriously, trodden 
down or smothered by their own people.' 03 When the men of Tarsus had 
carried off this unexpected victory and decimated the Roman forces, they 
broke out into barbarous howling of victory songs. 

26. So much for eastern afra irs; the narrative will now speak of the west. 
Here as elsewhere things had been badly neglected for a long time dur- 
ing the reign of Michael. Nearly the entire area of Italy which belonged 
to the Roman empire and the greater part of Sicily had been overcome 
by the Carthaginian forces and the people there were now paying taxes to 
the barbarians. Likewise those in Pannonia and Dalmatia and the adjacent 
Scyths, Croats, Serbs, Zachlouboi, Terbounitotes, Kanalites, Diocletians and 
Rhentanoi had renounced the Roman yoke to which they had long been sub- 
ject and asserted their autonomy. In due course the Hagarenes of Carthage 
attacked too with Soldan, Sabas and Kalphous in command, men acknowl- 
edged [146] by their fellow countrymen to have given evidence of outstand- 
ing military experience. They dispatched a fleet of thirty-six warships against 
Dalmatia and were able to take several of its cities such as Boutoma, Rhosa 
and Kato Dekatora. Since everything was going to plan for the Hagarenes, 
they appeared before the metropolis of the entire nation, Ragusa by name, 
and blockaded it for some time, those within putting up a determined resist- 
ance."" But in due course the Ragusans were worn down and reduced to a 
state of utter hopelessness. Compelled by necessity, they sent delegates to the 
emperor entreating him to come to the aid of those who were in danger of 
falling into the clutches of men who denied Christ. The emperor Michael 
died, however, before the delegates arrived; hence it was Basil whom they 
encountered. He gave them an attentive and entirely sympathetic hearing. He 
fitted out a fleet of one hundred vessels, put a man in command of it whom 
he knew to have distinguished himself above many others in experience and 

1Cl> Stypeiotes fell on 14 September 883. Hie Arab commander was the famous Yazman, emir of 
Tarsus, who had. just freed himself from the suzerainty of the 1 ulunids of Egypt: A. A* Vasil iev, 
Byzance et les Arahes , 11: Les relations politiques de Byzance et des Arahes k Uepoque de la dynastic 
macedonienne , ed. M . Canard (CBHB 2, 1, Brussels, 1968) 102—3. Yazman was so famou s that 
according to the testimony of a G reek preserved by MasYdi in his Prairies of Gold , the Greeks 
inc luded his p or trait among those of the most valiant Moslems which decorated some of their 
churches: Vasil iev and Canard, IT, T23. 

104 An identical list of Dalmatian peoples appears in DAI , ch + 29. The listing of Slav princes in De 
Cerimoniis has been commented on by E. Malamut, Tes adresses aux princes des pays slaves du 
sud dans le Li vre des ceremonies 2.48: interpretation 1 , lM y 13 (2000), 595—615. 

105 Sawdon (meaning the sultan), the emir of Bari,, Saba (or Sama) of Tarento and Kalfun, a Berber 
who had already attacked Bari in 841: J. Gay, Vltalie meridionale et l empire hyzantin depuis 
Vavenement de Basil I jusqu a la prise de Bari par les Normands (867—1071) (Paris, 1904), 52. 
Butova, Rosa and Kotor. 

The Arabs laun died two attacks on Ragusa (now Dubrovnik), one in 840 at which time they 
took Bari too, another in 866: Gay, Italic , 92. 



Basil I the Macedonian 


skill, the patrician Niketas Ooryphas, droungarios of the fleet, 108 and sent 
him against the enemy. The Hagarenes, while still persevering with the siege 
of Ragusa, learnt about the Ragusan delegation to the emperor from some 
deserters. Losing hope of taking [that city] in the immediate future, they 
now also began to be afraid that help might be arriving from the emperor. 
So they raised the siege and passed over into Italy, into what is now c ailed 
Longobardia." They plundered the fortified town of Bari and set up camp 
there, raiding the environs on a daily basis. Continually advancing in this 
way, they gained control of the whole of Longobardia, almost as far as the 
once great and glorious city of Rome. 

When the aforementioned races of Scyths, the Croats, Serbs and the 
rest of them saw what had happened in Dalmatia as a result of Roman 
intervention, [147] they sent delegates to the emperor requesting to be 
brought into subjection under Roman rule. This seemed to the emperor 
to be a reasonable request; he received them with kindliness, and they all 
became subjects of the Roman government and were given governors of 
their own race and kin. 

The emperor now gave thought to the problem of disposing of the 
Hagarenes who were using Ragusa as a base from which to coast around 
Italy, continually devastating it. Knowing that Ooryphas’ 111 fleet was 
inadequate for such a campaign, he began negotiations with Doloichos 
[Louis II, 850—75], king of Francia, and with the pope of Rome, request- 
ing reinforcements for his own troops, to take their place beside them in 
the struggle against the godless ones. He ordered the lands of the Slavs 
mentioned a little earlier and also the inhabitants of Ragusa to take their 
part in the campaign. When all these had gathered and a great army was 
assembled, since the Roman admiral was a man of considerable military 
experience, it was not long before Bari was taken. The commander of 

Iofl Presumably a relative of the man of the same name who was droungarios of the watch under 

109 Longobardia usually means the area populated by Lombards, but the Byzantine theme of 
Longobardia was more or less Apulia. On that region when the Byzantine empire flourished: 
J*-M * Martin, La Pout lie du Vie au Xlle siecle (Rome, 1991), 

110 Skylitzes has confused this one with the previous attack on Ragusa. 

111 Th ese events probably led to the creation of the theme of Dalmatia, of which a strategos is first 
mentioned in 878 (whereas the Taktikon Uspensky only mentions archons}: Oikonomides, Listes 3 




Th is must he Niketas, droungarios of the admiralty (mentioned above), who subsequently coni' 
manded the fleet in action against the Saracens in the Adriatic (see below), not the person of the 
same name who ser ved under Theophilos and Michael IL 

The matter is more complicated than this* The 'arch on of Francia 3 must be the emperor Louis II 
who campaigned in southern Italy to counteract the growing influence of the Moslems there* He 
sought an alliance with Byzantium but their cooperation before Bari achieved little; Ooryphas 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

the Franks fell upon Soldan and his force of Hagarenes and led them 
off to [the Franks’] homeland in captivity. Such was the outcome of the 
emperor’s first campaign in the west. 

27. As we said, Soldan was taken prisoner by the king; he was brought 
to Capua, where he spent two whole years during which nobody ever 
[148] saw him laugh. The king promised to give gold to anyone who could 
make him be caught laughing. One day a fellow came to the king announ- 
cing that he had seen Soldan laughing and he produced witnesses to the 
event. The king summoned Soldan and asked what circumstances had 
come about that he haci laughed. 1 saw a wagon,’ he said, ‘and noticed 
its wheels: how the lower part is raised up while the upper part is brought 
low. In this I saw a metaphor of the instability and uncertainty of human 
happiness. Then I laughed at the thought of how we are puffed up by such 
an uncertain thing; and I also recognised that it was impossible that I who 
have been brought low from so great a height should not be raised up again 
to greatness from ground level.’ The king listened to this and reflected on 
his own situation. He reckoned the speaker an intelligent man who, in the 
course of his iormer command and long life, had experienced both good 
fortune and bad; whereupon he treated him as a free man, admitting him 
to his presence and conversation. 1 ' 4 

28. Now Soldan was no fool, and very cunning; he devised an intrigue 
against the king to drive him out of Capua and permit himself to return 
to his own land. The rascal was aware that those two Italian cities, Capua 
and Benevento, had not been in the kings possession for long and that 
they were not particularly loyal to him, but were always dreaming of being 
independent. Neither was he ignorant that it was a major concern of the 
king bow to hold them firmly and securely in subjection. So he went to 
the king and said: ‘I notice, O king, that it is a constant source of worry 
and concern to you how you are to maintain a firm hold on these Italian 
cities. I will give you some advice: you should be aware, most noble prince, 
that you will never have an unshakable hold [149] on these cities until 
you remove the leading inhabitants of them to the lands of the Franks. 
For those who are enslaved against their will naturally long for freedom 
and will break out in revolt to attain it if they are given the opportunity.’ 



arrived, ofl the town with his Heet after the army of Louis II had already lilted the siege. Louis 
did return to besiege Bari and took it (February 871); it did not return into Byzantine hands 
until 875—6: V. von Falkenh ausen, c Barl bizantina’, Spazio , societa , potere neU’Italia dei Comuni , 
ed, G. Rosetti (Naples, 1986), 195—227. 

The same event is reported in DAI> ch. 29. 

Louis II was captured by the Lombards of Benevento a nd set free against his promise to take no 


Basil I the Macedonian 


Hie king liked what he heard and, thinking it would be to his advantage, 
decided to do as follows. He had chains and fetters secretly forged, as if 
there were an urgent need of them. Having taken the king so cunningly 
in his snare, Soldan now turned to the leading citizens with whom he had 
also form ed an acquaintance and maintained constant contact. To th CSC 
he said: l T wish to give you some top secret information which, if it were 
discovered, would, T fear, be my destruction and put you in great danger.’ 

I hey swore silence and to keep what he said unspoken. 'The king wishes 
to send you all in chains to his own land of Francia, fearing that there is 
no other way for him to maintain a firm grasp on your cities,’ he said. But 
they hesitated, thinking that what he said did not merit belief. When they 
asked for some credible confirmation of his allegations, he to ok one of the 
leading citizens and went off to the area of the blacksmiths and invited him 
to enquire what it was they were forging in such haste. When he learnt that 
it was chains and fetters, the citizen returned with the information that 
the man was speaking to them in good faith. His words were true and also 
advantageous to the Italian cities. When the leaders and counsellors of the 
said cities received this information they began searching for an opportun- 
ity of striking a counter-blow against the king. One day when he went out 
to hunt, they shut the city gates in his face and would no more permit him 
to enter. Since he could do nothing about the situation for the time being, 
he withdrew to his own land. Then Soldan came to the leaders demanding 
the rewa rd for h is revelation, which was to be set free and to be allowed to 
return to hi s own fatherland. He was released as one who was supposed to 
have benefited [the cities]; he returned to Carthage, resumed his command 
and mounted a campaign against Capua and Benevento." 1 ' He established 
a fortified camp and vigorously besieged the cities. Oppressed by the siege, 
[150] the citizens despatched an embassy to the king begging forgiveness 
for their offence and an ally in the fight, but he dismissed the embassy 
with scorn, saying that he rejoiced in their destruction. 1 hey were at a loss 
what to do when the ambassadors returned empty-handed. As there was 
nothing [else] they could do and they were being severely oppressed by 
the shortages occasioned by the siege, they sent a messenger to Basil the 
emperor of the Romans to ask for help. He received the envoy and quickly 
sent him back, urging them to hold fast because shortly reinforcements 
would arrive for them and deliver them out of their oppression. But as the 
envoy was returning he was taken prisoner by the enemy. Soldan had him 
brought before him and said: ‘There are two paths open to you, of which 

Abd’Allah commanded the army despatched by the emir MoHamed ibn Ahmed. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

you should rake the one more beneficial to you. If you wish to save your 
own life, also to receive many gifts and favours, say — in my hearing — to 
those who sent you that the emperor of the Romans refuses to ally him- 
self with you; thus, you will live. But if you insist on delivering your true 
message, sudden death awaits you.’ 117 The messenger agreed to do what 
the Emir wanted; then, when he was a bowshot from the wall, he asked for 
the leading citizens to be present. When they were in place he began the 
following speech to them: c O fathers, even though death is obviously at 
hand and the sword ready to strike, I will not conceal the truth. I only ask 
that you show your gratitude to my wife and children. I am in the hands 
of the enemy, my lords; but I have completed my embassy. You may expect 
help from the emperor of the Romans forthwith, so be of good cheer: your 
deliverer is coming, but not mine.’ Even as he was saying these and simi- 
lar things, he was immediately slashed into little pieces by the swords of 
Soldans servants. Nevertheless Soidan was disquieted by the prospect of 
the arrival of relief from the emperor. He lifted [151] the siege and went 
back home. But the cities of which we have been speaking thenceforth 
remained friends and allies of the Romans. 

[Soidan] completely destroyed only the illustrious Italian city of Iontos 
an d led its population captive back to Carthage with him. The emperor 
built another city to replace it. It was washed by the sea on all sides except 
at the point of entry, which is by a narrow strip of dry land that allows 
only a very narrow path for those going in that way. As this town stood 
in need of inhabitants, he brought people from the town of Herakleia in 
Pontos to live there and he called it Kallipolis. This explains why even 
today the inhabitants have the same customs, dress and political institu- 
tions as the Romans. 

29. It was at that time that Esman, the emir of Tarsus, 1 ' exulting in his 
recent victory, fitted out thirty large vessels of the kind the Saracens usu- 
ally call koumparia and launched an attack on the city of Euripos. The 
emperor had received prior intelligence of this so, by imperial command, 

1 17 




The story of the heroic messenger is an oft-recurring commonplace* 

In fact the departure of the Saracens was due to the death of A bd Allah (December 871 or 
January 872) and the victory of Louis II on the hanks of the Vulturno that year. On these oper- 
ations: Vasil iev and Canard, 11, 50 — t. 

The passage is only found in MSS ACEB. The town mentioned is Gallipoli, on the Straits* 

Ya zman, emir of Tarsus* Since the victory of Petronas over Amr of Melitenein in 863, it was the 
emir of Tarsus who took the initiative in leading the jihad and who was the principal adversary 
of the Romans, 

This was the principal fortress of Euboea: J* Koder and F* Hild, Hellas und Thessalien, Register 
von P. Soustal (TIB, I, Vienna, 1976), 156— 8* Violent currents swept the straits separating the 
town from the mainland: Koder and Hild, Hellas und 1 h ess a lien , 60. 

Basil I the Macedonian 

1 47 

the commander of the Helladikon theme, Oniates, had raised an army 
adequate for the defence of the city from all over that theme. He put the 
wa 11s in the necessary state of repair and built machines for hurling stones 
and darts. In brief, he omitted no defence-wo rk capable of resisting a 
siege. When the fleet from Tarsus arrived it drew near to the walls and 
attempted to dissipate the defending forces by constant discharges, but 
the men of Euripos abounded in energy and enthusiasm. They valiantly 
drove the enemy off with their machines for hurling stones, missiles and 
darts — to say nothing of stones thrown from the walls by hand. Each day 
they inflicted heavy losses on the barbarians. Having watched out for a 
favourable wind, they now brought their own ships up against the enemy 
and burnt many of them with ‘Greek fire’. In the face of this action the 
barbarian was at a loss what to do; but, knowing that the desire for and 
love of money can bring many a man to despise death, he set up a great 
shield before [152] their line of defence and rilled it with gold, saying that 
he would give this together with a hundred maidens chosen from the 
captives to the first man who scaled the wall and conferred victory on 
his fellow 7 countrymen. As soon as they saw this, the men in the city 
realised what was going on. They encouraged each other with fortifying 
and inciting words to resist boldly, then, at a given signal, they opened 
the city gates and launched a dauntless attack on the barbarians. At the 
first encounter the emir received a mortal wound and fell; ' many others 
there lost their lives with him while the rest took to their heels. They w r ere 
pursued as far as the remaining ships, and there a great massacre of the 
barbarians took place. Those who remained alive manned a few of the 
ships and shamefully fled to their homeland; such was the end of the fleet 
from Tarsus. 

30. Then another fleet was raised against [us], this one in Crete. When 
Saet, 121 the son of Apo chaps, was ruling Crete, a warlike and energetic 
fellow named Phonos was sent by him against the Roman empire with 
twenty-seven koumparia and many myaparones and pentekontores usually 
known as galleys. Setting out from Crete, this Photios devastated the 



\h is is rh e emir Yaznnan* Skylitzes* report does not agree with the Arab historians who say the 
emir died in 891—2, killed by a stone propelled by a ballista at the siege of Salandu: Vasiliev and 
Ca na rd, 11, 56 and n. I, also 122. 

Sa’id ordered this raid in 872 or 873: Vasiliev and Canard, 11, 51 — 4 * 

Koumparia is a vessel designed both tor war and for freight: H, Anton iadis-B ibicou, Etudes 
d’histoire maritime de Byzance: a prop os du 'theme des Caravisiens ’ (Paris, 1966), 167—9. The 
myoparon or satoura was a heavy, rounded vessel, the pentekontor or galea a light vessel propelled 
by oarsmen: H. Ahrweiler, Byzance et la mer: la marine de guerre , la politique et les institutions 
mari times de Byzance aux Vlle—XVesiecles (Paris, 1966), 410 and note 8, also 414. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

islands and shores of the Aegean 25 and advanced as far as the Proconnesos 
of the Hellespont; he enslaved the people, looting and burning wherever 
he appeared. He was met at the mouth of the Aegean, near Kardia, by 
the patrician Niketas Ooryphas, droungarios of the admiralty now com- 
manding the Roman fleet. A furious battle ensued in which he promptly 
disposed of twenty Cretan ships with ‘Greek fire’, dispatching the barbar- 
ians in them with the sword or by fire and water. They who managed to 
survive the perils oi naval warfare and the sea saved their lives by running 

31. [153] But although the Cretans had been so badly defeated, they were 
by no means ready for a quiet life. Once again they launched an attack on 
the maritime possessions [of the empire]. With the aforementioned Photios 
in command, they fitted out pirate ships as war vessels, terrorising the 
Peloponnese and the adjacent isles. The commander of the Roman fleet, 
the patrician Niketas Ooryphas, went out to meet them; profiting from 
a favourable and steady wind, he reached the Peloponnese in a few days 
and tied up in the harbour of Kenchreai. He now learnt that the enemy 
ships were devastating the western parts of the Peloponnese: Methone, 17 
Pylos, Patras and the approaches to Corinth, whereupon he adopted a wise 
and expedient plan. His head swam at the thought of circumnavigating the 
Peloponnese by way of Capes Maleas and Tainaron, uselessly measuring 
offth ousan ds of miles only to arrive too late. So he did what he could: sud- 
denly and by night, putting all hands to work, he transported his ships 
over dry land across the Isthmus of Corinth to the sea beyond. Then he 
embarked his men and went into action; thus he was able suddenly to fall 
on an enemy who had not the slightest idea of his whereabouts. His attack 
was so unexpected that it confounded their hopes with fear and threw their 
plans into confusion. They gave no thought to regrouping or fighting, but 
only to how they could immediately get away. He burnt some of their war- 
ships and sunk others; some of the barbarians he put to the sword, others 
he caused to drown in the deep. He executed the naval commander, and 
the remaining men were forced to disperse across the island. These he later 
netted alive and inflicted a variety of punishments on them. Some of them, 
[154] in particular those who had renounced their Christian baptism, he 
had flayed alive, saying that what was being taken away from them was 

Tli * At that time the inhabitants of Erissos on the western tip of Lesb 
peninsula an d th ere founded the future diocese of HSerissos* 

116 The port of Corinth* 

117 Motion, a port on the south-eastern coast of the Peloponnese 

os took refuge on the Athonite 

which controls access to the 

Basil I the Macedonian 


nothing of their own for they had shed it of their own free will. Other men 
had bands of skin most painfully torn off them, from the neck to the heel. 
Others still he raised up with ropes then let them down into vessels of boil- 
ing pitch — while on the rest he inflicted a diversity of torments. By doing 
this he inspired fear in them and made sure they would think twice before 
sending an expedition against the Roman empire again. 11 

32. There was another naval force, from the west, which crashed against 
the Roman empire like a hurricane or a squall. The ruler of Africa 1 fit- 
ted out sixty exceedingly large ships and sent them out against the Roman 
government. They devastated as they went and took many people pris- 
oner even as far as the islands of Kephalonia and Zakynthos. There was 
immediately despatched a squadron of ships and other swift vessels under 
the successor of Niketas as commander of the naval forces, a man named 
Nasar. 1 ’ 2 Taking a direct route and profiting from a favourable wind, he 
soon reached Methone but he was prevented from attacking the enemy 
right away for the following reason. Many of the oarsmen had quietly 
deserted in small groups for fear of the danger which lay ahead, thus deny- 
ing their commander the speedy action for which the situation ca lied. 
He decided that he should not engage the enemy while his ships were so 
undermanned. He despatched a swift messenger to advise the emperor of 
what had happened, and he arrested the deserters in less time than it takes 
to tell and inflicted a punishment on them which was intended to strike 
terror in the hearts of the rest of the oarsmen. He ordered thirty [155] of 
the Saracens being held prisoner in the praetorium to be brought out by 
night and to be made unrecognisable by having their faces rubbed with 
soot. They were brought to the Hippodrome and flogged, then sent off in 
disgrace to the Peloponnese under the pretence that these were the instiga- 
tors of the desertion and that they were being executed at the spot from 
which they had fled. And that is what happened: the thirty Saracens were 
impaled as though they were the deserters and a great fear was instilled in 
the entire Roman fleet. Every thought of comfort and well-being was cast 
aside; [the sailors] begged the commanding officer to take action against 
the enemy in all haste. 

129 Photios perished in this action: D, Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete: from the fifth century to the 
Venetian conquest (Athens, 1988), 50; Vasiiiev and Canard, n, 54 - 5 * 

]iy The date of this Moslem attack (880) is established by a letter from Pope John VIII to Charles the 
Fat: Vasiiiev and Canard, tt/t 99* 

™ Named Ffusayn b. Rabah: Vasiiiev and Canard, it* 95. 
m Kephalonia was already a theme at the beginning of the ninth century. 

According to the Life of Elias the younger^ his name was Basil Nasar and he had lorty-five vessels 
under bis command: Vasiiiev and Canard, ii, 95-9. 

150 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

33. Meanwhile [Nasar] brought his forces up to strength with some of 
the Peloponnesian fighting men and, being assured of the cooperation of 
the local commander, he was ready to attack. For their part, the Saracens 
had become very conceited and held the Roman fleet in deep contempt 
because of its earlier inertia. Becoming over-confident, they fearlessly dis- 
embarked from their ships and laid waste the surrounding area. Then, 
suddenly, the Roman admiral made his appearance close by and, at a 
given signal, launched a surprise attack on the enemy by night. Tie adver- 
saries, not having the time either to regroup or to counter-attack, were 
ingloriously slaughtered and their ships given to the flames, together with 
those who were on board. Nasar, the commander, dedicated the undam- 
aged ships to God as a kind of sacrifice by granting them to the church of 
Methone. 1 he emperor congratulated him on what he had accomplished 
and ordered him to advance yet further. As the morale of the army was high 
(thanks to the foregoing successes), he went over to Sicily and attacked all 
the cities which were subject to the Carthaginians, these he pillaged and 
destroyed, capturing many merchant vessels, some of which contained 
valuable cargoes, including a great quantity of oil so well priced that [156] 
a measure sold for one obol, 1 - 1 they say. lhis same fleet sailed on to Italy 
and was able to rendezvous with the Roman cavalry of the region, com- 
manded by Prokopios," 5 the emperor’s protovestiarios, and the patrician 
Leo Apostypes, 1 commander-in-chief of the Thracian and Macedonian 
themes. [The fleet] accomplished praiseworthy deeds, encountering and 
defeating a fleet setting out from Africa again off the island of Stylai,' 57 
and also freeing all but a few of the Hagarene-held fortresses of Calabaria 
and Longobardia from the hands of the barbarians'’ and restoring them 
to Roman rule. Such then are the victories won with God’s help by Nasar 
and the Roman fleet; he returned to the emperor loaded with booty and 
triumphal crowns. 



J n6 


A seal suggests that this church might have been dedicated to St John the Evangelist: DOSeals , 
n, 85. 

M can lag one follis * 

ProkopSos had under his command the troops of the two themes consolidated, in other words the 
greater part of the troops of th e west — soldiers normally engaged in Calabria and Sicily, 

George the Monk , Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 22, says that Leo Apostypes was commander o t the 

' I he island of StylaP indicates a spot on the way to Rome via the straits of Messina where a col- 
umn {stylos) stood. On the battle: E. Kislmger, ^Milazzo-Stelai (880 D. CR*}: una battaglia navale 
cambia luogo’, Archivio storico mess hies t\ 69 (1995), 4 it 

It was in this year (880) that the Arabs were expelled from Tarento and a Roman garrison 
in st a lied. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


34. The infantry of Longobardia was not entirely capable of escaping 
the enmity of destiny for, although they served with courage and distinc- 
tion, in the midst of their striving for victory there arose enmity and jeal- 
ousy which cost the highest-ranking commander his life. Leo had fallen 
out with Prokopios over some trifling matter and, before a reconcili- 
ation took place, there was an engagement with the enemy. Apostypes, 
fighting on the right wing with the Thracians and Macedonians, carried 
the day against the enemy and slew many Saracens. Prokopios, however, 
on the other wing, with the Sclavini and the western troops, was sorely 
pressed by the adversary. As no relief was sent to the distressed wing 
by the co-commander because of their preceding quarrel, the troops of 
Prokopios were put to flight and he himself was slain. He fell fighting 
valiantly in the midst of the fray. 139 Now Leo was desirous of perform- 
ing some further illustrious deed to eclipse the shameful event which 
enmity had brought about. He took his own army, [157] joined to it the 
troops under Prokopios who had survived the rout and laid siege to the 
fortress of Taranto which was still in the hands of the Hagarenes. He 
took it and sold the entire population into slavery. From the spoils he 
was able to make generous provision for the soldiery and to bring booty 
to the emperor. But he was not able to propitiate the emperor in this 
way; when [Basil] learned the reason for the slaying of Prokopios, he 
di smiss ed [L eo] from his command and sent him into exile at Kotyaeon, 
where he had his estate. 

35. Baianos, Leo’s chief groom, and some others of those who waited on 
hinT 40 now laid a charge of treason against him. When his sons Bardas and 
David heard of this, first the y slew Baianos then, fearing the wrath of the 
emperor at th is audacious act, they fled into Syria, taking their father w ith 
them. When the emperor learned of this he despatched the command- 
ing officer of the Hetaireia and some troops with orders to intercept and 
arrest them. [ I he envoys] hastened their journey and apprehended them 
in Cappadocia while they were only just on their way to Syria. Although 
[the troops] merely intended to prevent [David and Barcias] from going 
any further, they encountered resistance. An engagement took place in 
which [Leo’s] two sons fell fighting, but he was taken alive and brought 
before the emperor. He was handed over to the courts and found guilty. 

139 According to Vita Euthymii patriarch ae CP. Text , translation , introduction and commentary , 
P, KarlirvHayter (Bibliotheque de Ryzantion , 3* Brussels, ryjo) (ch* l) Prokopios was with 
Zaoutzes when Basil suffered his fatal hunting accident* 

140 According to Theophanes Continuatus , ed* Bekker, 307, the cubicularios Cham are to s was also 
one of th e accusers* 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

He had one eye ripped out, one hand amputated and he spent the rest of 
his life an exile in Mesembria/ 41 

3 6. While the emperor was accomplishing these things in the west by 
the agency of his commanders, the Arabs in the south began to revive and 
(under the impression that the emperor was inactive) to thin k of 1 aunch- 
ing another attack against the domains which bordered on the sea. Ships 
were built in Egypt and in the coastal cities of Phoenicia and Syria with 
a view to launching a naval offensive against the Romans. [158] But first 
spies were sent out to find out what the emperor was up to. Nor was the 
emperor by any means blind to what was going on; he knew all about 
what was happening in Syria. He too fitted out a fleet ready for battle, 
which he kept at the capital, waiting to see what would happen. And to 
make sure that it did not become undisciplined for want of something to 
do (‘Pointless inactivity brings forth no good thing/' 42 says the poet), he 
ordered [the sailors] to work at the construction of the church which was 
then arising in the imperial palace to the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ, 
of the Archangels and of Elijah the Tishbite. At the same time they were to 
remain in readiness, so that when the [enemy] lleet crossed the borders of 
Syria they would be completely prepared to be sent out to withstand them. 
That is how the emperor dealt with the situation. As for the Saracen spy,' 43 
he came to the capital, saw that everything was very well prepared, went 
back to those who had sent him and reported what he had seen. In their 
alarm, they chose rather to remain quietly [at peace]. 

37 - Fearing, on account of their recent reverses, that a Roman fleet might 
be sent against their territories, the Carthaginians built a good number ot 
ships. When spring began and no news arrived of any force being des- 
patched by the emperor, thinking that he must be otherwise engaged, they 
launched a campaign against Sicily. When they came before Syracuse they 
laid siege to it, pillaging and laying waste all the surrounding country- 
side. When the commander of Sicily made this known to the emperor, 
he immediately sent out the fleet which was held in readiness to Sicily 
(even though [its men were] engaged in building the church) with the 
Patrician Adrian [159] in command. Sailing out of the capital, they had 
no easy voyage and indeed only just made it to the Peloponnese, where 

141 A port ot some importance on the north shore of the Black Sea, The place of exile was well 
remo ved irom the former residence ol Apostypes. 

142 Sophocles, fragment 308 - Stobaeus, Florilegium 30*6* 

141 On espionage: N. Koutrakou, “‘Spies of towns”: some remarks on espionage in the context 
of Arabo-Byzantine relations, eighth-tenth centuries', Proceedings of the Sixth International 
Congress of Graeco-Oriental and African Studies (Nicosia, 30 April-5 May 1996), published in 
Graeco-Arabica , 7— S (Nicosia, 2000), 243—66* 

Basil I the Macedonian 


they moored in the harbour called Hierax 44 at Monembasia to wait for 
a favourable wind. A long time [Adrian] delayed in this harbour, wish- 
ing neither to use the oars in periods of calm nor to struggle against an 
adverse sea. Meanwhile, the Hagarenes intensified their siege and took 
the city. Many of those within were slain; th e rest were taken prisoner. 
Tire city was utterly destroyed, the holy churches it contained put to the 
flames. Tit at city, so famous and illustrious until then, which had repelled 
so many attacks by barbarians, shorn of all its glory in the twinkling of 
an eye! r4S Adrian got wind of what had happened in the following way. 

I here is a place in the Peloponnese called Elos; it acquired its name from 
the adjacent thick forest. 146 That was where the Roman naval force was 
stationed. There were shepherds who, one night, heard the demons who 
inhabited that region telling each other that Syracuse had been captured 
and destroyed the day before. 1 '* 7 Word passed from mouth to mouth, and 
then the tale came to Adrians ears. He summoned the shepherds, inter- 
rogated them and found that what he had heard was confirmed by their 
words. Wanting to hear with his own ears, he went to the place with the 
shepherds and, putting a question to the demons by means of them, he 
heard that Syracuse was already taken. Overcome [at first] by anguish and 
distress, he pulled himself together again, judging that he ought not to 
believe the deceptive words of demons — yet he carefully noted the day. 
Ten days later some refugees arrived, reporting the disaster of which they 
Iliad been eyewitnesses.’^ When Adrian heard their account, [160] he 
turned tail and quickly reached the capital with the fleet. There he fled to 
the Great Church for sanctuary, but this asylum did not protect him from 
prosecution. He was dragged out from there and sent into exile. Stephen 
M axentios, the Cappadocian, was sent out as commander of Longobardia, 
with choice Thracian, Macedonian and Cappadocian troops. He arrived, 
but through lack of courage and too much love of comfort he achieved 
nothing worthy of report and was relieved of his command. 

144 Port to the nort h of M onembasia. 

145 [here is an eyewitness account of the fall of Syracuse on 21 May 878 by one I heodosios the Monk. 
The siege had lasted nine months and a dreadful famine had ensued. The Moslems massacred 
part ol the population when the final assault took place, including the garrison commander. The 
prisoners who survived the ordeal (of whom Iheodosius was one) were liberated by an exchange 
of prisoners in 885: Vasil iev and Canard, ! r, 70—9. 

146 This place is close to Sparta. Skylitzes calls the place Elos; Theophanes Continuatus gives Helos 
which is preferable. The word means a swamp or marsh. 

147 On the persistence of paganism in Lakonia and a reference to this passage: A. Avramea, Le 
Peloponnese du iVe au Vllle siecle: change merits ei persistances (Paris, 1997), T54. 

148 Among those of rhe garrison who survived were some Peloponnesian Mardaites who then went 
back home: Theophanes Continuatus , ed. Bekkep 311. 

154 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

38. Nikephoros, surnamed Phokas, a man of nobility and action,' 49 was 
sent to replace him, bringing with him forces equal to the task and a corps 
of Manichees under the command of that Diakonitzes who had served 
with Chrysocheir. Arriving at the appointed place, he joined forces with 
those under Stephens command and then gained many glorious victories 
against the Saracens. First he threw back the enemy drawn up in battle 
order, then he captured the city of Amantia, Tropai and Saint-SeverineT 0 
He also got the better of the enemy in many other battles and engage- 
ments. Such were the military events in the time of Basil. 

39. He also splendidly adorned [the church of] that greatest of mar- 
tyrs, Diomedes, with extremely costly treasures and splendid offerings. He 
honoured it with grants of profitable estates and in many ways promoted 
and enriched it. 

40. The son of Danielis' 51 (with whom he had entered into a bond of 
spiritual brotherhood) he promoted to the rank of pro tospath arias and [161] 
granted him complete freedom of access to his person. As for Danielis, now 
an old lady, he sent for her and, since she was no longer able to sit a horse, she 
made the journey reclining in a litter, which was carried in relays by three 
hundred strong young servants of her choosing. When she arrived at the cap- 
ital there was the customary reception in the Magnaura, 15 ’ at which she was 
brought before the emperor in great honour and there she offered costly gifts; 
it would be an offence against the canons of good taste to enumerate th em. 1 ’ 4 

149 Nikephoros Phokas 'the elder' - to distinguish him from his grandson of the same name, the 
future emperor. He may well have been the son of that Phokas whom Basil had singled out dur- 
ing his campaign in Asia Minor and made a tour march. Nikephoros had already served as com- 
mander of the Charisanon theme: J.-C, Cheynet, Tes Phocas', he traite sur la guerilla de lempereur 
Nicephore Phocas y ed. G* Dagron and H. Mihaescu (Le monde byzantin, Paris, 1986), 289—315, 292 
= J.-C .Cheynet, La societe byzantine . Lap port des sceaux (Bilans dc recherche 3, Paris, 2008), 477 * 

T<f ° This town in the province of C atanzaro is still k nown by the same name. It was elevated to 
the rank of metropolis after being reconquered: V. Laurent, 'A propos de la metropole de Santa 
Sever ina en Calabre (quelques remarques)', REB , 22 (1964), 1 76—83, 

151 The Patria confirm this magnificent reconstruction. The monastery was still active in the 
time of Andronikos I (1183—5), w h° had his predecessor s (Manuel s) widow Mary of Antioch 
confined there: fan in, Eglises et monaster es , r> 95 — 7 ; A, Berger, Untersuchungen zu den Patria 
Konstantinapoleos (Poikila Byzantina, 8, Bonn, 1988 ), 365—7. 

151 The archontissa ol the Peloponnese who had assured Basil s future: a hove, c« 6. 

153 Normally receptions in the M agnaura were only offered to very distinguished guests such as the 
ambassadors of foreign princes. 

m Theophanes Continuatu$ y ed. Bekker, 318, has no such reticence, saying that Danielis offered five 
hundred slaves, some of whom were eunuchs, one hundred women who could weave, hundreds of 
pieces of precious silk, many gold and silver objects. But, as E, Anagnostakis observes, 'The epi- 
sode of Daniel \s\ Everyday life at Byzan tium (Athens, 1989), 3 75—90, this 1 ist is h igh ly re m i n i seen t 
of the gifts the Queen of Sheba brought to Solomon when he was building the temple (2 Chron, 
9). It is a striking comparison: Basil, the new Solomon, is building his new temple (the Nea). On 
the silks offered by Danielis: D. Jacoby, 'Silk in western Byzantium before the Fourth Crusade, 1 
BZ, 84/85 (1991—2), 458—60. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


She received hospitality befitting one so charitably disposed to Basil and 
stayed in the capital for as long as she pleased; she then returned to her home- 
land. She did pay another visit to the capital; after Basil died and Leo his son 
received the right to rule, the old lady came again with gifts of a similar kind. 
She embraced [Leo] and declared him in writing to be heir to all her wo rldly 
goods. Then she returned to her estates and died shortly afterwards. But that 
was later, 

41. Many of the sacred churches had been damaged by previous dis- 
ruptions and shaken by earthquakes, while some had been completely 
wrecked, 155 The emperor Basil took this matter in hand. Some he replaced 
with new buildings; of others he made good the damage, w hil e in other 
cases he conferred additional beauty and ornamentation. First of all, the 
western apse 156 of the great [church of the] Wisdom of God, which is gigan- 
tic and towers into the sky, was badly cracked and in danger of falling 
down. By the skill of experienced builders he bound it around, thus restor- 
ing it to solidity and stability. Within [the Great Church] he depicted the 
image of the Mother of God with the baby cradled in her arms, together 
with the princes of the apostles, Peter and Paul, on either side of her. He 
also rectified the fissures and faults in the walls. He increased the income, 
which was rather diminished to the point that there was danger of the 
sacred lights being extinguished for want of oil. By the grant of a large 
estate known as Mantaia, he provided perpetual light in the lamps and 
he made provision for more generous salaries to be paid to the choristers 
of the sacred church [162] out of the income from the estate. The sacred 
church of the holy martyrs Sergios and Bacchos had sadly declined from 
its former glory, the holy icons therein having been effaced when John, for- 
merly superior of the monks living there, became patriarch in the reign of 
the former emperor Theo phi! os. At the prompting of the blessed patriarch 
Ignatios, Basil decorated this church with sacred icons and made good the 
other deficiencies of the structure. They call this Hormisdas' church; it 

15 - Among other things, the earthquake of 8 January 869 did severe damage. Skylitzes proceeds 
to reproduce the list of buildings constructed or repaired by Basil given in the Vita Basilii, 
Theophanes Continuatus, ed. Bekker, 323-5 and 338—41, obviously meant to redound to that 
emperor’s glory. P. VI a gd a 1 i n o o b serves ( Co ns ta n ti n op l e m ed i e va le: e hides sur / b vo lution d es si ru c- 
tures urhaines , 7 M, 9 (Paris, 1996), 27—8) that more than half the buildings that benefited from 
Basil's munificence were situated outside the Constant inian wall; also that the main churches 
of the city (apart from Saint Sophia and Holy Apostles) had been adequately preserved since 
the days of Justinian and Heraclius. For a somewhat different interpretation: R. Qusterhout, 
Reconstructing ninth-century Constantinople', Byzantium in the ninth century: dead or alive , 
Papers from the Thirteenth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, ed. L. Brubaker (SPB S, 5, 
Aldershot, 1998), 115- 30* On the role of Basils constructions in the formation ol the imperial 
ideology of the Macedonians: P. Alexander, *The strength of empire and capital as seen through 
Byzantine eyes', Specu lum, 37 (1962), 339-59. 

■ v ' Literally, ‘facing west'. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

was first constructed by Justinian on the plan of the Great Church, as an 
inscription running round the inside of the church itself testifies: 

Other emperors have honoured the dead, 

1 heir labours were unrewarded. But 
H e w ho now holds our sceptres, pious Justinian 
Honours with an illustrious house Sergios, servant 
Of Christ, King of the universe, whom neither the flickering flame, 

Th e sword, nor any other torture could hurt, 

But who was constant unto death for Christ our God 
And merits heaven by his blood. May he always 
Protect our ever-vigilant emperor 

And augment the sway of Theodora, crowned by God; 

She whose piety enlightens the soul; whose ceaseless 
Activity and unremitting good works bring 
Relief to those who are crushed by poverty.' 57 

The sacred church of the Holy Apostles, 10 this too sadly declined from its 
former glory, he secured with buttresses and reinforcements to the dilapi- 
dated portions, rendering it ‘glorious in the flower of youth’,' 59 as the poet 
puts it. He restored the church of the Mother of God at Pege, K ’° which had 
lost its original beauty. He rebuilt the other church of the Theotokos, the one 
called the Sigma, from its foundations (for it had completely fallen down 
in an earthquake)," rendering it more substantial and beautiful [163] than 
before. He also raised up from its foundations [the church of St] Stephen 
the first martyr in the Aurelia naif" ’ which had fallen down to the ground, 

if 7 






The meaning is less than explicit towards the end. On this inscription and the medieval mann- 
scripr tradition, see the bibliography in D* Feissel, Tes edifices de justinien an temoignage de 
Procope ct de Fcpigraphie’, Antiquite tardive , 8 (2000), 89* 

Jan in, Eglises et monasteres, 4 41—50, The core of Holy Apostles’ was the heroon built by 
Constantine, the nearest he ever came to providing bis new city with a shrine. Under Konstantios 
it became a church and subsequently one of the principal sanctuaries where a number of very 
important ceremonies were held* The emperors and the court went there on Easter Monday, 
Pentecost; also on the Sundays following Easter a nd Pentecost and on the feast of St Constantine* 
It also housed some significant relics. Most emperors were buried in the heroon until the elev- 
enth century* Holy Apostles' was still standing in when it housed the patriarchs for a time* 
Iliad, 10.446* 

Jan in, Eglises et monaster es, 1, 223—8; another very famous Marian shrine, outside the walls 
by the gate of the same name. The spring there produced miraculous healings: A*-M* Talbot, 

4 I wo accounts of miracles at the Pege shrine in Constantinople', Melanges Gilbert Dagron , ed* 
V* Deroche, D* Feissel, C* Morrisson, C* Zuckerman, TEE 14 (2002), 605—15* 

Jan in, Eglises et monasteres , 4 230; this church was near the M ese, across from the Peribleptos 
monastery. In 869 ar the feast of St Polyeuktos, there was an earthquake. Leo the Philosopher 
[Mathematician?] tried in vain to get the people to evacuate the church, which was in danger of 
falling down: Symeonis magistri, 261-2* 

Janin, Eglises etmonaste res. , 4 472—3* The existence of this church is attested in the fifth century; it 
too was near the Peribleptos monastery. 

Basil I the Macedonian 

!5 7 

and the two shrines of the Baptist in Stobilaia and in Makedoniai 04 
respectively — the one he completely, the other he largely rebuilt. The 
[church] of Philip the Apostle 65 and the one to the west of it dedicated to 
Luke the evangelist/ both of which had suffered severe dilapidation, he 
rebuilt from their foundations. Add to these the great shrine of Mokios the 
martyr / 07 the sanctuary of which had fallen to the ground in such a way 
that the holy table was cracked. This too he took under his care and raised 
up what had fallen down. He restored to its former elegance the adjacent 
[church of St] Andrew the first- called 1 '" ;i [apostle], which had also fallen 
down. He renovated the somewhat decrepit [churches of] St Romanos, St 
Anna in the Deuteron / 69 of the great martyr Demetrios and of the mar- 
tyr Aimilianos 171 in the Rhabdos. Besides these he restored [the church] of 
St Nazarios 72 which was falling down, and he magnificently reconditioned 
the very beautiful church of Christ s Resurrection and of St Anastasia the 
Martyr in the Arcades of Domninos / 73 replacing the wooden roof with 
one of stone. He restored the church of Plato / 74 that great martyr (which 
was falling down), and also turned his attention to the adjacent church of 
the victorious martyrs Hesperos and Zoe. 75 He snatched from the jaws 
of ruin the church of Akakios the martyr at Heptaskalon 176 (which was 
in danger of falling down) by reconstructing it. He similarly renewed in 
splendid fashion [the church] of the prophet Elijah at Petrion .' 77 Within 
the imperial palaces he raised up a novel foundation in the names of the 
lord-and-master Christ, Michael the archangel / 78 Elijah the prophet and 

167 Jan in, Eglises et monasteres , I, 440, located on the Golden Horn. 
M Jan in, Eglises et monasteres , I, 418, location unsu re. 







Janin, Eglises et monasteres, I, 493, located near to St Mokios at Ta Meltiadou, 

Jan in, Eglises et monasteres, 1, 311, located near the cistern of Mokios. 

Janin, Eglises et monasteres, 1, 353, situated adjacent to the cistern of the same name; said to have 
been founded by Constantine on the site of a temple of Zeus, but pro bably earlier. 

Jan in, Eglises et monasteres , i, 28-31, probably the famous monastery of this name, St Andrew £ en 
Krisefi, bought by St Pbilaret in 792; the burial place of Andrew of Crete. 

Jan in, Eglises et monasteres , 1, 35. This church, built under Justinian I, was located near the 
Adrianople Cate and the cistern of Aspar. 

Jan In, Eglises et monasteres , I, 89, the oldest church of this dedication in the city. 
t: Jan in, Eglises et monasteres, 1, 12, The only thing known about this church is that Basil restored it. 
t:i Otherwise unknown. 

173 Jan in, Eglises et monasteres , I, 22—3, constructed in the fourth century in the quarter Ta 
Marianou: Berger, Unter such ungen, 444—7. 

174 Janin, Eglises et monasteres, i 5 404; similarly located in the Portico ofDomninos. 

Janin, Eglises et monasteres , 1, 114. 

]?6 Janin, Eglises et monasteres , 1, 14: believed to be one of the oldest churches in the capital. The 
Patria says it was built by Constantine; its existence is attested in 359. 

177 Janin, Eglises et monasteres, i, 137, Ta Antiochou. 

178 The Nea (new) church seems first to have been dedicated to Gabriel, subsequently changed to 

i 5 8 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

also of the Mother of God and of Nicholas, the illustrious prelate. This 
is the exquisite church which is there now and which they call 'the New 
Church V 79 In beauty, comeliness and magnificence it knows no rival and 
is beyond compare. Sufficient income was assured for the provision of 
light and [164] for the needs of those who sing praises to God [there]. But 
what point is there in going on at length? The work itself is there, offering 
its peculiar beauty and magnificence to the beholder. He founded a num- 
ber of other sacred churches within the palace in the name of the prophet 
Elijah, Clement the martyr, Christ the Saviour, Peter the apostle and 
the archangel Michael, to describe the beauty of which even the eloquence 
of poets would not suffice. He did a considerable amount of construction 
at the palace, creating (as it were) palaces within the palace; there is no 
need to list them all. The so-ca lied ‘ho use of Manganes’ 1 ® 3 is the work of 
this emperor, and ‘the new palace’ 1 ®' 1 (as they call it) is another; these were 
built for the following reason. Basil was unwilling to disburse public funds 
for his own needs, so he built these mansions and provided a generous 
income for them from his agricultural products so that there would always 
be an abundant and sufficient provision for his imperial banqueting and 
for the guests he entertained throughout the year. He built the palace at 
Pegai and renovated the one at Hiereia, where he cleaned out the cistern 
which the emperor Heraclius had filled with earth and transformed into 
a flower and vegetable garden. Heraclius did the same with other cisterns 

179 Jan in, Eglises et monasteres^ 1, 361ft.; also P. Magdalina, ‘Observations on the Nea Ekklcsia of 
Basil 1 ? JOB, 37 (1987), 51—54. A number of buildings constructed by Basil were known as "new’ 
(note in the same paragraph, above, the New House), As Magdalino observes (52-4), the epi- 
thet does not so much mean new 1 in our modern sense as rather superior, he, to what was there 
before. The Nea was inaugurated Sunday 1 May 880. 

180 Janin, Eglises et monasteres , 1, 116. For some reason Elijah was particularly popular with the 
Macedonians; Leo VI inaugurated a foot-race on the prophets feast day, 20 July,, according to the 
Kleterogion of Phi loth eos: Oikonomides, Pistes, 215. 

lSl Janin, Eglises et monasteres , I, 281. This Clement, bishop of Ancyra, martyred under Diocletian, 
must not be confused with Pope Clement — whose relics had been recently discovered by 
Constantine and Methodios while they were living in Cherson (860—1), a very important event 
at the time, of which neither Skylitzes nor his source {Theophanes Continuatus) make the slightest 

l8; Janin, Eglises et monasteres^ 1, 398. 

18 ’ Basil had merely renovated a personal residence in which M ichael Rhangabe lived before he came 
to the throne and which subsequently became part of the imperial patrimony. It was the resh 
dence of the patriarch Ignatios, the son of Michael Rhangabe, who ceded it to Basil: E Malamut, 
‘Nouvelle hypo these sur Porigine de la maison imperiale des Manganes’, Melanges Svoronos , I 
(Rethymno, 1986), 127—34. "There is mention of a curator of this property from the beginning of 
the eleventh century. He w r as the administrator of the emperors private domain, together with 
the grand curator 5 , replaced in the nth century by the economos lor pious institutions. 

184 This neos oik os may be the same as the palace of Marina: C . Mango, ‘The palace of Marina, the 
poet Palladas and t he hath of Leo VI/ Melanges Cbatzidakis (Athens, 1991), 321—30. 

Basil I the Macedonian 

15 9 

within the palace (the one before the Magnaura and the one between the 
refectory of Justinian and the Lausiakon) because he learnt from Stephen 
the philosopher (who had studied the astrological conditions at his birth) 
that he would die by water. So he had the cisterns filled in, as we said. 
[Basil] cleaned out the cistern in the palace at Hiereia and restored it to 
its original function, making it a reservoir (instead ot a garden) provid- 
ing an abundant supply of limpid water. He built a very elegant church 
of the Theotokos in the forum so that the merchants [165] could have a 
house of prayer when their business detained them. He reconditioned and 
ornamented the church of St Phokas in the Stenon and, establishing a 
residence for monks, he provided a sufficient income for the maintenance 
of those who were living the ascetic life there. 1 * 5 He restored the great but 
ruined church of the Archangel at Sosthenion i6 to the beautiful state in 
which it now appears. 

42. By promising them rewards, making them grants and exchanging 
gifts with them, he was able to render many of the jews worthy of sacred 
baptism. 87 He strengthened in the faith the Bulgar race (only recently 
turned to the worship of God) by a mission of exemplary monks and 
priests distinguished by virtue. 188 He concluded a pact with the Russians; 
he was responsible for them partaking of salvific baptism and he sent them 
a bishop. 83 

43. The wonder which came about at the hands of the bishop who was 
sent is worth reporting. While the ruler was still clinging to superstition — as 




]S?5 Jan in, Eglises et monas teres , I, 49 8— 9; this is the former property ot Arsavir, see Michael III, c* 4 

Jan in, Eglises et monasteres? 1, 346-9, one ot the most celebrated sanctuaries dedicated to 
St Michael, already attested in 515. 

On compulsory baptism of Jews in the time of Basil 1 : G . Dagron, ‘Le traite dc Gregoire dc Niece 
sur le bapteme des juifsf TM, II (199 0 , 3 S 7 - 

Photios* correspondence bears witness to his connections with theintant Bulgar church. Towards 
the end of Basil’s reign the disciples ot Method ios were cha sed out ot Moravia, notably Clement 
and Nahum, Basil bought back Nahum and a hundred priests sold into slavery on the Venetian 
market by Sviatopluk of Moravia and sent them into Bulgaria, They encountered Greek clergy 
who were by no means enthusiastic about their installation in that country: C, Hannick, Tes 
no uvelles chretientes du monde byzantin: Russes, Bulgares et Serbes’, ed, G* Dagron, Histoire 
du christianisme> iv> Evetfues, monies et empereurs (610 )> ed* G* Dagron, R Riche and 

A, Vauchez (Paris, T993), 927-31 

38 ? Following Theophanes Continuatus , ed, Bekker, 342—4, Skylitzes in paraphrasing gives the 
impression that there was a second mission, subsequent to that of Photios, instigated by the 
patriarch Ignatios who, on this occasion, sent them a dignitary of archiepiscopal rank* It is pos- 
sible that this first establishment of Christianity in ‘Russia’, i.e. not in the Kiev region, hut in the 
lands to the north of ‘Russia’, near the Baltic Sea, did not survive after the disappearance of the 
first Russian state: C. Zuckerman, ‘Deux e tapes de la formation de Pancien etat russe’, Les centres 
proto-urbains russes entre Scandinavie, Byzance et Orient , ed. M* Kazanski, A* Nersessian and 
C. Zuckerman n (Rea I ires byzan tines, 7, Paris, 2000), 95—121, at ro4~ 6* 

160 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

were his grandees and all the people — he, wishing to compare their former 
religion with the Christian faith, summoned the bishop who had just 
arrived among them and asked him what he was going to proclaim and 
teach them. The bishop produced the sacred book of the divine gospel and 
explained to them some of the wonders worked by God during his human 
incarnation: ‘Unless we and the Russian people have the opportunity of 
witnessing something similar (especially what you told us happened to the 
three children in the furnace), we will not believe you in the least/ [i 66 ] 
The bishop believed in the unerring word of Him who said, ‘Whatever you 
ask in my name, you will receive,’ and ‘He who believes in the works that 1 
do will do even greater than these/ He said to them: ‘Even though it is not 
permitted to put the Lord God to the test, 190 if you have decided with all 
your heart to come to God, ask whatever you like and God will certainly 
do it on account of your faith, even though we be the most unworthy of 
men/ Without hesitation they asked that the codex of the divine gospel 
be thrown into the bonfire they had lit; and, if it were recovered undam- 
aged, they would embrace the God who had been proclaimed to them by 
him. This was agreed to; the priest raised his eyes and his hands to God, 
saying: ‘jesus Christ, our God, glorify your holy name’ — and then in the 
sight of this pagan people, the book of the holy gospel was thrown into the 
inferno. The fire burnt on for many hours, and when it finally died down 
the sacred codex was found intact and undamaged, not harmed in any 
way by the fire. When the barbarians saw this, dumbfounded by the mag- 
nitude of the wonder they spontaneously and without hesitation presented 
themselves for baptism. 

44. About that time Constantine, the eldest of the emperors sons, died 
of a fever, plunging his father into inconsolable grief. But the emperor 
suffered this with quiet dignity, even comforting his wife and children. 

45. The officers of the treasury urged the emperor to send [tax-] inspect- 
ors 191 into the themes, so that the tax revenues wo uld fl ow in more freely. 
He, pretending to approve this suggestion, ordered them to choose and 
instruct persons who would effectively discharge this duty and then to 
bring them before him. Ill cgenikos selected those whom he thought would 
perform such a task well and then presented a list of the names of the 
chosen ones. But he was held to be seriously at fault [167] if he supposed 




Matt. 2T:22, John 14:12, Mart. 4:7. 

Constantine died of fever 3 September 879: R Halkin, 'Trois dates historiques precises grace au 
Synaxaire ' 24 (1954), 14-17. 

The epopteSy officers of the treasury under the head of the gen ikon , had the task of determining the 
level o i taxation for the tax payers. They could grant reliefs and also refuse them. 

Basil I the Macedonian 


ministers like that would be adequate for such service. When, in self- 
defence, he said there were none better in the entire realm, the emperor 
went on: ‘In my judgement, the effort required by the proposed under- 
taking is such that, if it were possible, I would go out myself to perform it. 
Since that is neither convenient nor possible, I have no choice but to put 
my confidence in the two [senior] magisters of the realm. Th rough time, 
experience and the many offices they have held and by which they have 
been put to the test in the course of a long life of political service, these 
have demonstrated their incorruptible integrity. It is by them, I feel sure, 
that this task will be discharged in a fitting manner. Do you yourself 
go then,’ he continued, 'inform them of the nature of the undertaking — 
and of my will. If they are willing to go, I approve.’ When the magisters 
heard, they were dismayed. As grounds for an appeal, they protested their 
great age as a reason for not going and the many services they had already 
performed for the administration, praying that this service be taken away 
from them. So the messenger came back empty-handed and reported 
to the emperor what they had said. He listened and then said: ‘Since it 
seems impossible for me to go and the most distinguished magisters de- 
cline the mission, having no minister adequate for the undertaking, it is 
my will that the situation be left without inspectors. It is better to take 
the chance that a few defraud the treasury (which is not a good thing) 
than to run the risk of somebody being punished in a compromising and 
ruinous way because of false accusations. And because of this, th rough 
his entire reign, for the entire population under Roman rule in all the 
themes, there was no new tax evaluation; or rather, to express it correctly, 
they were free and untaxed. 

4 6. After Constantine, the emperor s eldest son, departed this life (as we 
mentioned), [Basil] transferred his affection and his hopes to [i6B] Leo, his 
second son, for whom envy prepared a bitter blow; the following account 
will explain how. There was a monk among those whom the emperor 
held in great affection and trusted implicitly, a priest whose name was 
Santabarenos. Even though the emperor cherished him, the others did 
not think much of him and for this reason he was often attacked by Leo, 
the emperors son, as a deceiver and a charlatan who would distort the 
emperors reasoning from the better into less desirable ways of thinking. 

Th is monk got his name from his native village* Santabaris in Phrygia. With the support of the 
caesar Bardas he entered Stoudios* monastery where he was for a time h ego omen os* after the 
deposition of his predecessor, one Nicholas, His fate was bound up with that of Photios who 
appointed him Metropolitan of Euchaita: ODB , in, 1839, and the introduction to Vita Euthymii , 
ed. Karlin-Hayter, 40—5. According to Pseudo-Symeon the Logothete, 6 93, a source hostile to 
Phot jos, Theodore Santabarenos was origin never really ceased to be, a Manichee, 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Santabarenos was wounded in liis soul by this and yearned for revenge 
against Leo for insulting him, so [the monk] pretended to be friendly to- 
wards [Leo] and said to him one day: ‘O emperor, since you are a young 
man and well loved by your lather, why do you not carry a sword or a dag- 
ger when you ride out into the countryside with your lather, so you can 
hand it to him il he needs it to deal with a beast? Or if there is a secret plot 
against him — as there often is — you will not be unarmed, but will have to 
hand what you need to strike back at your father’s enemies.’ Never think- 
ing there might be guile here or that a plot was being rigged, Leo accepted 
the advice and was persuaded to carry a dagger slipped into his boot. Once 
Santabarenos realised that his plan had worked, he went to the emperor 
and said: ‘O emperor, you ought to know that your son is plotting against 
your life. If yo u don’t believe me, the next time you are out hunting order 
his footwear to be brought to you. It will be found that he is bearing a 
knife and that my information is perfectly correct.' Ihis was agreed upon. 
An imperial hunting expedition was announced and the entire company 
rode out in the usual way. Leo, the emperors son, went too, and when they 
came to a certain spot the emperor pretended to need a dagger and made a 
great iuss about finding one. Completely ignorant of his father’s suspicions, 
the son innocently drew out the dagger he was carrying and handed it 
over to the father. At this occurrence, the allegations of Santabarenos were 
instantly believed while Leo’s explanations were treated as vain and empty 
words. The emperor went back to the palace very angry with his son and 
locked him up in one of the palace buildings [169] known as Margarites, 
removing his imperial insignia.’ 94 He was incited by Santabarenos to put 
out the light ol his eyes too, but he was prevented from doing this by the 
patriarch an d the Senate; but Basil still kept him in gaol. Much time went 
by, during which the Senate oiten attempted to intercede on Leo’s be- 
half but, for one reason or another, was always prevented from doing so. 
Then a good way was found to accomplish what was intended. There was 
a bird in a cage hanging in the palace — to delight the eyes and ears of 
those who saw or heard it; the animal was a parrot, a mimic and a chat- 
terbox. Either because somebody had taught it or because it had picked 
it up spontaneously, this bird would often cry out: ‘Poor Leo, poor Leo.’ 
Once, when the emperor was holding a banquet and the leading senators 

194 For the chronology, see R* H* J* Jenkins, 'The chronological accuracy ol the Logothete for the 
years ad 867— 91V, DOP , 19 (1965), 91—112, at 102, repr, Studies > no* in * It would have been autumn 
883 when Leo was arrested* It looks as though Leo really had been plotting against a father whom 
he hated for forcing him into a marriage he abhorred. He was no doubt buoyed up by the oppose 
ition to the politics of the ageing emperor: Tougher, Leo vi, 57-9- 
m Three years* 

Basil I the Macedonian 


were feasting with him, the parrot kept calling out the words mentioned 
above. The guests were saddened and the feasting came to a halt as the 
guests sat there, occupied with their thoughts. When the emperor noticed 
this he enquired why they were refraining from eating. With tears in their 
eyes they said: Sovereign Lord, how can we, who are so put to shame 
by the voice of- this bird, touch food; we who are supposed to be rational 
creatures and devoted to our sovereigns? This animal, devoid of reason, 
calls upon its sovereign while we, besotted with delights, are completely 
unmindful of our sovereign who transgressed no law. If he had been found 
guilty of some crime and it was proven that he had raised his hand against 
his father, we would raise our own hands against him in an insatiable lust 
for his blood. But if they cannot prove him guilty of the crime of which 
they accuse him, how long is the tongue of the false accuser going to have 
its way with him?’ The emperor was mollified by these words; he told the 
senators to bide their time for a while, promising to look into the matter 
himself. Soon after he reconsidered, released his son from prison and had 
him brought before him.' 96 He changed his clothes of mourning, cut his 
hair which had grown too long during his [170] affliction and restored to 
him his former imperial dignity. 

47. Before very long Basil fell prey to the disease of diarrhoea which 
slowly sapped his strength.' 97 Having disposed of imperial business as 
seemed best to him and publicly designated his heir and successor, he 
departed this life. He had co-reigned with Michael, his predecessor, one 
year and then distinguished himself by governing the empire alone for 
another nineteen years. Leo, the first in age of his surviving sons, inherited 
complete control of the government. 



Leo was set free on 20 July 886, the feast of St Elijah: ‘Cletorologe de Philothee’, Oikonomides, 
ListeSy 215. Skylitzes (following his source, Jheophanes Continuatus) alludes to this conspiracy 
but places it incorrectly in the chronological sequence of the events of Basil's reign. It was a very 
serious conspiracy, organised by John Kourkouas, domestic of the Hikanatai, comprising more 
than sixty senators and persons in authority. Probably already quite ill, Basi 1 had ro occupy him- 
self with the problem of succession: B. Vlyssidou, 'La conspiration de Kourkouas dans la Vita 
Basihi'y Symmeikta , 6 (1985), 53—8 (In Greek). This Kourkouas is the first known member ol this 
family of eastern origins which was to furnish the empire with so many officers, including the 
emperor John Tzimiskes. 

There are varying accounts of Basil s end. Vita Euthyrniiy Karlin-Hayter (ch. 1) is the most spe- 
cific: it speaks of a hunting accident. Basil was unhorsed by a stag which wounded him severely 
in the belly. It is possible that this story is inspired by the death of Hippolytos: A. Markopoulos, 
‘Kaiser Basileios I und Hippolytos’, Lesarten . Festschrift fur Aihanasias Kamhylis zum jo* 
Gehurtstag {Berlin and New York, 1998), 81—91. Some modern historians have tried to read into 
Basil’s demise an attempt by Leo to seize power, but there are difficulties with this, not the least 
of wh ich is the fact th at Basil survived bis wounds for some time. According to the curse which 
was hut led at the assassins of M ichael III, Basi l should h ave been the last to die a violent death. 

164 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

{The emperor Basil reigned eighteen years, eleven months and four 
days. He acceded on 24 September and died on 29 August. He was buried 
in the church of the Holy Apostles in the heroon of Constantine the Great 
in a green sarcophagus, gold and green. } 

1-} MSB only. 


Leo VI the Philosopher (the Wise) [886— pi 2 ] 

1. [17 1] Once Leo became master of all he surveyed 2 he cared little or 
nothing for any of the affairs of state. He chafed with anger at the memory 
of the recent intrigue which Santabarenos had contrived against him and 
decided to take immediate vengeance. First he brought up some not unrea- 
sonable accusations to make it seem as though there were good grounds 
for proceeding to the attack and also to remove certain obstacles from his 
path. He was well aware that he could do no serious harm to Santabarenos 
as long as Photios was occupying the patriarchal throne, rightly suspect- 
ing that Photios would protect him and stand by him lest he be the object 
of any despotic action. So the word was now put around that Photios had 
been eyeing the imperial throne for one ot his relations and had conspired 
with Santabarenos; but they could both see that there was no future to 
their project unless Leo was first put out of the way; that was why they 
brought the false charge against him mentioned above. Since he knew this, 
[Leo’s] first action was to remove [Photios] from the patriarchal throne. 1 
He promptly despatched the magister Andrew the stratelates together with 
the magister John Hagiopolites (who was logothete of the drome) to the 
Great Church. Their orders were to go up into the ambo of the church and 
to read out the charges against the patriarch Photios for all to hear. They 
were then to drag him from the throne and exile him to the monastery of 
Harmonianoi. 4 Not wasting a moment, the emperor appointed Stephen the 
synkellos (his own brother) patriarch. [172] B ecause [the metropolitan of] 

3 A study of the reign of Leo VI has recently appeared, containing an up-to-date bibliography: 
S. Tougher, The reign oj Leo VI ( 886 — pi2): politics and people (The Medieval Mediterranean, 15, 
Leiden, t 9 9 7) * Earlier works by R* |. H. Jenkins a nd P. Karl in-Hayter offer useful supplementary 

1 30 August 886* 3 29 or 30 September 886* 

4 R* Janin, Les igltses et les monasteres des grands centres byzantins (Paris, 1975), 84—5* 

^ Consecrated 25 December 886; Stephen presided over the church six years and five months, until 
May S9T lie was nineteen years old when he became patriarch: R. 1 L J* Jenkins, The chrono- 
logical accuracy of the Logothete for the years ad 867-91 A DOI\ 19 (1965), 91-112, at 99* This 
arbitrary choice worked out reasonably well as the new patriarch acquired a reputation for piety* 


1 66 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Herakleia had departed this life, 6 [Stephen] was consecrated by Theophanes 
the protothronos. 7 [The emperor] then sent [men] in all speed to Euchaita 
where the above-mentioned Theodore Santabarenos was presiding over the 
aforementioned church, with orders to bring that man to him. 

2. While this was being done, lie sent Andrew the stratelates and many 
other senators to the monastery of Philippikos ’ at Chrysopolis. Their orders 
were to take clergy with candles, incense and lights and exhume the assas- 
sinated emperor Michael. They were to lay [his body] in a coffin of cypress 
wood, ciress it up in a manner worthy of an emperor and bring it into 
the city. There, accompanied by the emperors brothers, Alexander and 
Stephen the patriarch, [the body] was to be brought in solemn procession 
with sacred hymns and songs to the church of the Holy Apostles where it 
was to be laid in a marble sarcophagus. And that is what happened. 

3. Stylianos Zaoutzes 10 he promoted magister and logothete of the drome. 
[The emperor] had already begun to frequent this man’s daughter, even 
though the woman to whom he was legally married, theaugoustaTheophano, 
was still alive. ! For her part, she saw and heard everything that was going on 
but did not in the least allow herself to give way to the passion of jealousy. 

4. In a short time the city of Hypsele in the theme of Charsianon 13 was 
captured by the Hagarenes and all its inhabitants taken prisoner 





traditionally the metropolitan of Herakleia consecrated the patriarch because Byzantium had 
once been a dependency of his see. 

Metropolitan of Caesarea. 

A brother-in-law of the emperor Maurice named Philippikos built a monastery dedicated to the 
Virgin there in 594: Jan in* Grands centres > 11, 24—5* In reality the translation of the corpse of 
Michael III was the first decision of the new emperor: Jenkins, ‘Symeon “the Logothete”', 106. 
This action of Leo has given weight to the arguments of those who believe he was the son of 
Michael. Tougher, Leo VI y 42—67, argues convincingly that Leo was trying to appease the 
Amorian elite and to secure the solidarity of the aristocracy. 

Zaoutzas or Zaoutzes derives from the Armenian word zaoutch , black; it is almost certain that 
the basileiopator was very dark. He was born in Thrace of an Armenian family, and was prob- 
ably related to Tzantes, a variant of Zaoutzes [?], the strategos of Macedonia who brought the 
Byzantine prisoners (including the parents of Basil I) out of Bulgaria (reign of Basil I, c. 2, note 
16)* Stylianos had been promoted protospatharios then hetaireiarch at the end of Basils reign: Vita 
Euthymii patriarchae CP. Text ? translation , introduction and commentary , ed. P. Karl in-Hay ter 
(Bibliotheque de Byzantion , 3, Brussels, 1970), 149—2; Tougher, Leo VI, 98— 109. Tougher argues 
that Zaoutzes was not quite as influential upon Leo as we have sometimes thought. At the begin- 
ning of the reign Andrew the stratelates had the most influence. 

Leo married Iheophano on his father's orders and against his own will. She was one of the 
Martinakioi (as was Eudokia, Basil's wife). This marriage reinforced the connection with the 
Amorian dynasty. They had one daughter, named Eudokia after her paternal grandmother. 
Iheophano was chosen as Leo's bride after a beauty competition in 882. 

Doga n bar today, 70 km north-east of Sivas, This fortress may have fallen in 888: A, A. Vasil lev, 
Byzance et les Arahes, 11: Les relations politiques de Byzance et des Arabes a Vepoque de la dynas- 
tic macedonienne , ed. M. Canard (CBHB 2, 1, Brussels, 1968), 12 1—2, F. Hild, Das Byzantinische 
S trass ensysl em in Ka p padoki en (FIB, 2 , Vienna, 1977), I o 8 . 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


5. and a fi re occurred in the southern part of the city, namely in Sidera. 
It reduced the church of St Thomas the Apostle to cinders and ashes' 4 [but] 
the emperor reconstructed it at great expense. 

6. [173] Santabarenos was now brought into the city. Andrew the strate- 
lates an d the magister Stephen (whom Santabarenos had often denounced 
before the emperor Basil) proposed to the emperor that the libellous charges 
against the emperor himself be examined. They assured Leo that it would 
be possible to find proof that the patriarch Photios and Santabarenos had 
devised and staged the comedy themselves in order to elevate a relation 
of Photios to the rank of emperor. Imperial officers were dispatched to 
bring Photios and Santabarenos to the palace of Pege — with instructions 
to confine them apart from each other. The stratelates Andrew himself, 
the magister Stephen,' 5 the magister [John] Hagiopolites together with 
the patricians Krateros 17 and Gouber' 8 were chosen to be the examining 
magistrates. Ihey brought in Photios the patriarch and respectfully seated 
him on a throne; when they were seated themselves, the enquiry began. 

1 lie stratelates said to the patriarch: ‘Does your Grace know the monk 
1 heodore?’ ‘I know many monks called \ heodore,’ he replied, ‘but I cannot 
know to which of them you are referring.’ When Andrew added the name 
Santabarenos, the patriarch testified: ‘I know the man; he is the bishop of 
Euchaita.’ When Santabarenos was brought in, Andrew said to him: ‘The 
emperor would ask of you: Where are the monies and properties which are 
his due as emperor?’ He responded: They are in the possession of th ose 
to whom the emperor of the day gave them. Since the emperor who has 
lately come to power is calling for them, he has the right to search them 
out and take them into his possession.’ Andrew continued: Well now, just 

Th is happened in 887 according to Michael the Syrian: Chronique de Michel le Syrien , patriarche 
jacobite d 'Antioch e (1166—1199), ech J. B. Chabot (Paris* 1905—10), repr. 1963, ni, 1 19, Jan in, Eglises et 
monasteres , 1.252* distinguishes this St Thomas 5 from the St Thomas' en tots Amantiou, the famous 
sanctuary where the relics of John Chrysostom were temporarily laid to rest In 438. This church 
was well-situated close to the Iron Gate* as Skylitzcs says* Leo VI delivered a homily there on 
the inauguration of the restored church: Antonopoulou, Th, Antonopoulou, The homilies of the 
emperor Leo VI (Leyden, 1997), 238-40. 

1? Stephen was the son of Kalomaria* a sister o 1 the empress Theodora, who had married the patri- 
cian Arsavir. Stephen was thus the nephew of the patriarch John the Grammarian and a cousin 
of the emperor Michael III* 

16 The former logothete of the drome. 

7 The patrician Leo Krateros, strategos of the Anatolikon theme, was one of the god parents of 
Le o VI: Constantine Porphyrogennetos, De administrando imperio y ech G. Moravcsik, tr* R. I L J. 
Jenkins (CFHB, 13 Washington, DC* 1967), 622. 

lS Gouber or Goumer ( PmbZ 2527 = PBE Goumer r) was logothete of the drome under Basil L He 
had one sister called Theodosia {PmbZ 7792) who married the caesar Bardas and another* Eirene 
( PmbZ 1452), who was superior of the Chrysobalantuu monastery. The name may be from the 
Bulgarian Kouber. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

tell me: whom did you wish to make emperor when you proposed to the 
emperor’s father to put out the eyes of his own son? A relation of yours, or 
one of the patriarch’s?’ [Santabarenos] swore that he knew nothing about 
the things of which he was being accused. The magister Stephen said to 
him: [174] O devious and crafty-minded one, then why did you lea d the 
emperor to think one could condemn the patriarch on this score?’ As soon 
as he heard this allegation, [Santabarenos fell down and] embraced the 
patriarch’s feet saying: ‘I beseech you, your Grace, in the name of God, 
first to depose me and to deprive me of the priesthood; then let them 
take me and punish me as an evil-doer. For my own part, I know noth- 
ing of this nor have I communicated anything of it to the emperor.’ The 
patriarch raised him up and set him on his feet, saying to him: ‘By my 
own salvation, monsignor Theodore, archbishop you are both now and in 
the world to come.’ In anger Andrew the stratelates asked: ‘Deceiver and 
charlatan! Did you not advise the emperor through me that you could 
condemn the patriarch on this score?’ — but he again denied any know- 
ledge of this matter and the leaders withdrew. The emperor was maddened 
with rage when the officials came back and told him what had been said, 
especially so because he could not find a charge against the patriarch that 
would stand up in court. He sent [men] to flog Santabarenos mercilessly 
and exiled him to Athens. Then he sent others to blind him and deport him 
to the East. A long time afterwards he recalled him from exile and made 
an allocation for his maintenance from the resources of the New Church. 
He outlived Leo, dying in the reign of Zoe his wife and of Constantine 
his son. 

7. In the second year of the reign of Leo when Agion, duke of Longobardia 
and son-in-law of the k ing of Francia, 20 heard of the death of the emperor 
Basil, he broke his treaty of friendship with the Romans and brought the 
entire region [of Longobardia] under his sway. When the emperor learned 
of this he dispatched the patrician Constantine, the superintendent of his 
own table, against him with the western thematic armies. [175] There was 
an engagement in which the forces of Constantine were soundly defeated 
and decimated; he himself only just escaped with his life.- 1 

19 The case against Photios collapsed, to the intense annoyance of the young emperor. It is not 
known what happened after the trial. Presumably Leo had some respect for the aged ex-patriarch 
for he describes him in favourable terms in the funeral oration on Basil 1. 

10 Agion or rarher Aigion, prince of Benevento, whose sister Agiltrude bad married Guy 11 of 
Spoieto, who became western emperor in 891 after his coronation by pope Stephen V, 

■ L June 887. The battle took place before the walls of Bari, the Romans having lost control of that 
town the year before: | . Gay, U Italic meridionale et V empire hyzaniin depuis Vavenement de Basil I 
j u sq u 'a la p ri se de Bari par les No rrn an ds ( 867— ioji) (Paris, 1904), T 3 4 . 

Leo VI the Philosopher 

1 69 

8. At that time there was an eclipse of the sun about the sixth hour 
of the day. The stars even appeared; violent winds blew; there were terri- 
fying storms and dangerous lightning; 12 there were fire-bearing thunder- 
bolts by which seven men were burned up on the steps of [the chu rch of] 
St Constantine in the forum. 

9. Samos was besieged by the Saracens an d th e commander, the patri- 
cian Constantine Paspalas, 14 was taken prisoner. 

10. Prompted by his passion for Zoe, the daughter of Zaoutzes, the 
emperor honoured her father with the newfangled title (which did not 
exist before) of basileopator [father of the emperor]. Zoe was then in the 
full fl ower of her charm and beauty; she had previously been married to 
the patrician Theodore Gouniatzitzes but he was treacherously poisoned. 
She, moreover, became the emperor s concubine while his wife was s till 

11. The following year, Stephen, the emperor’s brother anci patriarch, 
departed this life;' 7 Anthony Kauleas was appointed in his stead. 18 

12. That is what was happening in the capital, Then Symeon, ruler 
of the Bulgars, found the following pretext for breaking off his treaty 
with the Romans, as he wished to do. li; The basileopator had a slave, a 

22 8 August, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., mentioned in SynaxCI\ col. 878, 

2} A chapel was located at the base of Constantine's column: Jan in, Eglises el monas teres , 1, 296. 

24 First mention of a strategos of this maritime theme, no doubt newly created to oppose the menace 
of the pirates from Crete. Paspalas was defeated between 891 and 893, 

25 Tougher* Leo 17 , 99—100, reminds us that the post which Zaoutzes actually held was that of 
h as i lei op a tor y meaning (more or less) mayor of the palace {basileia). Skylitzes appears to attribute 
his obtaining this post to his daughter's standing in the emperor's eyes, probably because by the 
time the Synopsis was composed the term bastlewpator had lost its original meaning. But Stylianos 
received his appointment prior to his daughter's marriage: there is nothing to suggest that his 
nomination had anything to do with her relations with Leo, 

According to the VEuthymii, ed. Karlin-Hayter* 45, the husband of Zoe, there named 
Gouzouniates, died shorrly after the empress Theodora. 

May or June 899. 

Kauleas was the creature ol Zaoutzes. The synkcllos {the future patriarch Euthymios) was passed 
over on this occasion. It is to Anthony's credit that he put an end to the quarrel between the 
Photians and the Ignatians, the latter including most recently Metrophanes of Smyrna and 
Stylianos Mappas of Neo caesarea. 

On the personality of Symeon and what he hoped to achieve by war see J. Shepard, 'Symeon 
of Bulgaria — peacemaker', Annuaire de VUniversite Saint Clement d’Qchride , 83.3 (Sofia* T9 89), 
9—48, for a fairly irenic view of the Bulgar, Fora less favourable assessment, Tougher* Leo Vf y 174, 
who recognises that Symeon, until recently the master of Bulgaria, had no wish to smooth over 
the crisis — which would have made him look like the creature of Constantinople. This opinion 
is shared by P. Stephenson, Byzantium's Balkan frontier: a political study of the northern Balkans , 
poo— 1204 (Cambridge, 2000), 20—1. At all events Leo had little appreciation of the consequences 
of his action and none of the mood the Bulgars were in. J. Howard-Johnston, "Byzantium, 
Bulgaria and the peoples of the Uk mine in the 890s', MAIET. J 7 (2000), 342—56. Having little 
confidence in the chronology of pseudo-Symeon the Logothete (which Iheophanes ContinuatuSy 





John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

eunuch, named Mousikos who was friendly with some greedy merchants 
to whom he sought to bring some profit. 5 Trading upon his influence 
with Zaoutzes, [176] he had the goods coming into Constantinople from 
Bulgaria rerouted through Thessalonike, where he appointed those greedy 
merchants as customs officers. These then exploited the Bulgars who 
were importing goods by demanding increasingly heavy customs duties. 
This the Bulgars reported to Symeon who brought it to the attention of 
the emperor, but he was so much under the influence of Zaoutzes that 
he wrote it off as nonsense which merited no response whatsoever. Now 
Symeon (who, as we saici, was just looking for a credible pretext) explo ded 
in rage and took up arms against the Romans. When the emperor heard of 
this, he too prepared for war. He furnished Prokopios Krinites (then serv- 
ing as stratelates)- 2 with a large army of officers and men, plus Kourtikios 
the Armenian 51 — and sent him out against Symeon. The armies met head 
on in Macedonia and the Romans got the worse of it. Krenites himself, 
the Armenian Kourtikios and many others who had been taken from the 
imperial Hetaireia were butchered. Symeon slit the noses of the prison- 
ers who were the emperors retinue 4 and sent them off to the city — to 
the disgrace of the Romans. Deeply ashamed by this disaster and by his 
humiliation at Symeons hands, the emperor sent the patrician Niketas 
Skleros 55 across the Danube to persuade the furks 5 and Hungarians (as 




hence Skylitzes, follow), Howard-Johnston constructs a different schedule according to which 
the war with Symeon probably has to be placed earlier in the reign of Leo. It may have something 
to do with the troubles which followed the abdication of Boris- M ichael and the abortive restor- 
ation of paganism by his son Vladimir, 

Theophanes Continuatus , ed, I, Bekker (CSHB, Bonn, 1838), 357, gives their names: Staurakios and 
Kosmas. They were probably both promoted kommerkiarioi for there is a seal of a kommerkiarios 
of TIi essalonikc for that time whose name is Staurakios [DO Seals, 1.18.44), It not clear what 
exactly were the measures taken by Mousikos even though these obviously harmed the Bulgars: N. 
Oikonomides, ‘Le kommerkion d’Abydos, Thessalonique et le commerce bulgare au 9e siecle, 
Hommes et rich esses dans l empire Byzantine (Paris, 1991), 241—8, Symeon began hostilities in 894. 

P. Magda lino, 'St Demetrios and Leo VF, BS, 51 (1990), 198— 201, proposes an ingenious hypoth- 
esis to explain the bene fit conferred on the friends of Zaoutzes and on the city of 1 hessalonike. 
Leo had a particular devotion to St Demetrios and, since this saint had appeared to him on the 
eve of his liberation, he would wish to show his gratitude to the city which housed the most sig- 
nificant shrine of that saint. 

It is hard to tell whether the term only means army chief 1 or has a more precise meaning, in 
wh ich case It cou id mean ‘the chief of the army’ — in the absence of the domestic of the scholai. 
This army had been put together in a hurry because ol the suddenness of the attack; the greater 
part of the army was campaigning elsewhere. 

Th e same Kourtikios who submitted to Basil, 

These were K bazars. 

The Skleroi were a military family of Armenian origin of which the first known member was 
strategos of the Peloponnese at the beginning oi the ninth century: W. Seibt, Die Skleroi , Eine 
prosopographisch-sigillographische Studie (Byzantina Vindobonensia, 9, V ienna, 1976), no. 6. 

1 lungarians, who do derive from the Turkic peoples of the Steppes. 

Leo VI the Philosopher 

17 1 

they are called) to cross the river 37 and to devastate Bulgaria as best they 
could. [Niketas] made contact with the Turks, persuaded them to take up 
arms against the Bulgars, took hostages and returned to the emperor who, 
meanwhile, had decided to make war against the Bulgars by land and 
sea. He appointed the patrician and droungarios Eustathios to command 
at sea and, as commander of the land forces, the patrician Nikephoros 
Phokas, whom he appointed domestic of the scholai after the death of 
Andrew. [177] As these forces converged on Bulgaria, the emperor, still 
hoping for peace, sent the quaestor Konstantiniakos to Symeon — who 
promptly arrested him and threw him into prison, thinking that the man 
had not come to him in good faith. While Symeon was dealing with the 
army of Phokas, the Turks crossed the river and laid waste all of Bulgaria. 
When Symeon learnt of this, he abandoned Phokas and advanced against 
the Turks. They too were anxious to engage the Bulgars; they crossed the 
Danube, attacked them and severely defeated them. Symeon was only just 
able to save himself in Dorostolon (also known as Dristra). 1 lie victori- 
ous Turks offered the emperor the opportunity of ransoming the prison- 
ers they were holding — which he seized and dispatched some citizens to 
redeem those people. But Symeon was so enfeebled that, by the agency of 
the droungarios Eustathios, he requested a peace treaty of the emperor — 
who acceded to his request. He sent Leo Choirosphaktes to arrange 
the truce; Phokas, domestic of the scholai, and the droungarios were 
ordered home with their forces , 33 but when Leo Choirosphaktes arrived 
[in Bulgaria], Symeon flung him into prison without even hearing what he 
had to say and marched out against the l urks with a great army. On the 
occasion o fth is sudden and unexpected nature of this turn of events, the 
emperor could offer [the Turks] no help, [Symeon] put them to flight and 
overran all their land. Arrogant and haughty in his victory, he wrote to 
the emperor that he would not make peace until the Bulgar prisoners had 

The Hungarians had recently migrated in no great number from the plains of southern Russia 
and were in process of settling themselves in Pannonia, their future homeland: C. Zuckerman, 
Tes Hongrois au pays Lebed la: one nouvc lie p uissance aux con fins de Byzance et de la Khazarie 
ca. 8^6— 889’, Byzantium at war: ninth— twelfth century (Athens, 199 j)> 51—74, For a more general 
description of the early centuries of Hungary: Les Hongrois et lEurope: conquete et integration* ed. 
S, Csernus and K. Korompay (Paris and Szeged, 1999)* 

^ Leo Choirosphaktes was related to the imperial family, hence the high rank of magister. He was 
an educated courtier some ol whose writings have survived: G. Kol ias, Leon Choirosphraktes , 
magistre } proconsul et patrice (Athens, 1939); and P. Magda! i no, fin search of the Byzantine 
courtier: Leo Choirosphaktes and Constantine Man asses’, Byzantine court culture from Riy to 
120 q, ed. H + Maguire (Washington, DC, 1997), 141—65. 

It was a grave error on the part of Leo VI to recall the troops before the peace treaty was 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

been returned, to which the emperor agreed. 4 ” Thus Theodore, one of the 
closest associates of Symeon, arrived together with Choirosphaktes and 
took charge of the prisoners. 

13. When the b asileopator Zaoutzes realised in what good stead 
Nikephoros Phokas, the domestic, stood with the emperor, he sought [178] 
to make him his son-in-law. Suspecting this would anger the emperor, 
Phokas would have nothing to do with it, which enraged Zaoutzes. So 
he trumped up a charge against Phokas and had him relieved of his 
command, replacing him with magister Katakalon Abidelas. But after a 
short period of inactivity, Nikephoros was appointed commander of the 
Thrakesian 41 [theme]. He achieved many successes in all his commands 
and inflicted numerous defeats on the Hagarenes and other people before 
he died at a great age leaving two sons, Bardas and Leo. 

14. As Symeon was unwilling to stand by the terms of the treaty, the 
emperor decided that he would have to fight and deliver the Bulgars an 
annihilating defeat. He now ordered all the thematic units and the pro- 
fessional troops of the east to cross [to the west]. He made the western 
[forces] ready for battle in addition to yet another by no means small army, 
and sent all these forces against Symeon. He appointed the domestic of 
the scholai, Katakalon 42 [Abidelas], to be their leader and general, with the 
patrician Theodosios the protovestiarios as his colleague. They encoun- 
tered the advancing Symeon at Bulgarophygon; 1 battle was joined and the 
Romans were put to flight with heavy losses. The protovestiarios himself 

40 Once the treaty was signed in 896 or 897, peace must have been fully established because in his 
Kletorologion composed in 899 Philotheos notes that two Rulgar "friends' had their places at the 
emperor s table: N. Oikonomides, Les listes de preseance by zan tines des IXe et Xe siecles (Lc monde 
byzantin, Paris, 1972), 163 and 167. 

4r This tale of the demotion of Phokas and his appointment to the Thrakesion theme invites caution. 
He was, after all, the favourite general of the emperor, as his own Taktika attests, 7 l?e Chronicle 
of the Logothete (Symeon is magistri et Logothetae chronic on, rec. St. Wahlg ren (CFHB series 
Berolinensis XLIV/I, Berlin— New York, 2006), 277) says that Symeon recommenced hostilities 
when he learnt of the death of Nikephoros Phokas: JVC, Cheynet, "Les Phocas*, Le traite sur hi 
guerilla de Vempereur Nicephore Phocas (Le monde byzantin, Paris, 1986), 289-315, at 295-6 = J.-C, 
Cheynet, La societe byzantines Lapp or t des sceaux (Bilans de recherche 3, Paris, 2008), 479—80. 

41 Probably to be identified with Leo Katakoilas, droungarios of the watch, related to Photios — 
which brought him into disgrace at one stage. It was Euthymios who persuaded the emperor to 
recall him. The monastery which the emperor huilt for Euthymios at Psamathia (south-west of 
the capital) was on an estate which had been confiscated from Katakoilas. Psamathia possessed a 
metochion — the Ta Agathou monastery — which had also been a property of the then droungarios 
( Vita Euthymiiy ed. Karl in-Hay ter 26—31, reign of Alexander, c. 1). 

For once the Roma n army was at full strength, whi ch makes the defeat all the more bitter. Symeon 
invaded Macedonia in spring 896, encountering the imperil forces at Bulgarophygon, a fortress 
of Thr ace 160 km west of Constantinople: P. Soustal, Thrakien (Thrake y Rod ope und Haiminontos) 
(TIB, 6 y Vienna, 1991), 223—4. 

Leo VI the Philosopher 173 

lost his life, while the domestic shamefully saved his life and a few others’ 
in Bulgarophygon. 44 

15. At one time the emperor went to what we call Damian’s Fields 45 with 
Zoe, Zaoutzes’ daughter, intending to stay there for a while. Zaoutzes’ 
son Leo, Christopher Tzantzes 46 and some others mounted an uprising 47 
against him, but he was wakened in time because Zoe heard the din. 
Alerted, the emperor promptly embarked from Pege and sailed to the [179] 
palace. He dismissed John, droungarios ot the watch, for being careless 
concerning the emperors security and Zaoutzes was out of favour for a 
time 48 — until the magister Leo surnamed Theodotakes, a friend of both, 
reconciled them. 

16. After the augousta Theophano died, the emperor Leo crowned Zoe, 
Zaoutzes’ daughter, and [his marriage with her] was blessed by a clergyman 
of the palace’" — who was promptly degraded. She lived one year and eight 
months after being proclaimed and then died. When the sarcophagus in 
which her body was to be laid was being prepared, they found an incised 
inscription which read: ‘Daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery.’ ! 

1 7. Basil, the emperor’s epeiktesf 2 a nephew of Zaoutzes, was contem- 
plating the unspeakable against the emperor. 53 He shared his secret with 

44 Skylitzes says nothing of the consequences of this defeat* Leo VI agreed to pay an annual tribute, 
which conferred a fairly pacific character on the rest ol his reign, with the exception of one cam- 
paign by Symeon hoping to gain some a dva ntage from the sack of Ihessalonike by the Arabs. 

4 ^ Damian, parakoimomenos under Michael III, had a monastery built on the European hank 
of the Bosporos, close to the present Ortakoy, and thus gave his name to the area: R. Janin, 
Constantinople byzantine (HOC, 4 A, Paris, 1964), 470. 

46 Other chroniclers say this Tzantzes (often taken as an alternative form of Zaoutzes) was a son of 
the Basileopaton Georgius Mo nachus Continuatus , 830; I heap banes Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 360. 

47 Probably in 897, before Leo's marriage to Zoe. This uprising was no doubt the consequence of 
Byzantine reverses. Theophanes Continuatus ,, ed. Bekker, 360, and George the Monk, Theophanes 
Continuatus , ed. 1 Bekker (CSHB, Bonn, 1838), 855, say that the inhabitants of Cherson slew 
their commander and that the Arabs took Koron, the former capital of the theme of Cappadocia: 
F. Hild and M. Restle, Kappadokien (Kappadokia, Gharsianon, Sehasteia und Lykandos) (TIB, 2, 
Vienna, 1981), 216. 

48 He replaced him with Pardos, son of the hetaireiarch Nicholas, a fait hfiii supporter of the 
emperor: Theophanes Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 361; George the Monk, Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 

49 Theophano probably died on 10 November 896: P. Karlin-Hayter, Ta mort de Theophano 
(10. II. 896 ou 895)', BZ y 62 (1969), 13— 19, but possibly as late as 897: V. Grumel, ‘Chronologic des 
evenements du regne de Leon VT, EO y 35 (19 36), 22—3. 

50 His name was Sinapes: Symeoms magistri, 279* Leo VI did not marry Zoe before July 898: Tougher, 
Leo VI y 142. 

11 Ps. 136-7:8. 

* Thi s was an official serving under the count of the stables responsible for maintaining the supply 
of horses and pack animals: Oikonomides, Listes, 339. This conspiracy may he dated to the begin- 
ning of the year 900* 

53 With the death of Z oe, the Zaoutzes clan was attempting to retain its grasp on power. 

174 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

the koubikoularios Samonas, 14 a Hagarene by birth, placing him under 
oath not to reveal it. Samonas gave his word — and then revealed the 
whole plan, for he leapt into the saddle and went straight to the emperor. 
Taking him aside, he said: ‘O emperor, I want to tell you something 
which will bring about my death if it is spoken, yours if it is kept in 
silence,’ and he revealed Basil’s whole plot. At first the emperor would 
not believe it, so Samonas, hoping to convince him, proposed that two 
of the emperor’s most trusted men be sent to his house. He asked that 
they remain in hiding when Basil arrived there and that, while he was 
there and they were speaking to each other, what was said by both of 
them be written down. To this the emperor willingly agreed. He sent 
Christopher the protovesdarios and Kalokyros, one of his chamberlains, 
who hid themselves when they got to Samonas’ residence and waited 
to see what would happen. [180] Unaware of what was going on, Basil 
arrived at Samonas’ house and fell into the trap. The conversation was 
uninhibited: the unspeakable was openly discussed and the emperor’s 
envoys took down what was said in writing, lhen, leaving the two con- 
spirators at supper, they secretly left the house, went to the emperor and 
gave him their notes. As soon as he had read them, he sent Basil into 
Macedonia, allegedly to distribute alms on behalf of his late aunt Zoe; 55 
he had Stypeiotes s6 arrest the droungarios of the watch 57 and banished 
Nicholas the hetaireiarcfC from the city. He then had Basil brought back 
from Macedonia, subjected him to a trial, had him paraded through 
the city centre in disgrace and then banished him to Athens. He sub- 
sequently convened a plenary session of the senate and read out what 
Samonas had brought to light. The Senators praised him and pronounced 
him deserving of the highest honour, whereupon the emperor immedi- 
ately conferred on him the rank of protospatharios and numbered him 
among his confidants. 

A eunuch born at Melitene c. 875, a member ol the Zaoutzes household: R* Janin, ‘Un min- 
istrc a Byzance: Samonas, EO> 34 {1935), 317—18; V Euthymii y ed* Karl in-Hay ter, 177* 

* 5 Psychika — donations which the deceased empress was offering for the salvation of her soul, to the 
tune of 24,000 pieces or silver: Theophanes Continuatus, 363. 

* Th is could be Michael Stypeiotes, the future ambassador to Symeon of Bulgaria: reign of 
Romanos Laka penos, c. 12. 

J? Rela fives of Zaoutzes. Nicholas (who was his son-in-law) had at least two sons: Pardos* the 
recently promoted droungarios of the watch, and Basil the epeiktes: Theophanes Continuatus * ed* 
Bekker 363-4; Symeonis magistri y 281. 

Another relation of Zaoutzes — probably his son-in-law: Leo the Grammarian, ed* Bekker 
(CSHB, Bonn, 1842), 271. 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


18. On the death of the patriarch Anthony, Nicholas the Mystikos 59 
was made [patriarch] on account of his outstanding intelligence and 
wisdom. 60 

19. As the emperor Leo was unable to perform the ceremonies as they are 
laid down in the formularies without an augousta, he crowned Anna, the 
daughter of Zoe, daughter of Zaoutzes. He married a beautiful and gra- 
cious maiden from the Opsikion [theme] named Eudokia 1 and crowned 
her too. She was expecting and about to give birth to a child when both 
she and the embryo died. 

20. In honour of his first wife, Theophano, the emperor erected a very 
beautiful church in her name, close by Holy Apostles’. 6 * He built another 
church in the Topoi quarter dedicated [181] to St Lazaros. Here he brought 
and deposited the body of the saint [Lazaros] and also that of his sister, 
Mary Magdalene. 5 1 

21. While the navy was occupied with the construction of these build- 
ings, the Hagarene fleet succeeded in capturing Taormina in Sicily and 
many Romans were slain. The island of Lemnos was also taken by the 
Hagarenes and a considerable number of people led into slavery. On 
the day of mid-Pentecost, the customary procession to the church of 
St Mokios was taking place, including the emperor and his entourage. 


^ On the position of mystikos > private secretary to the emperor: P. Magdalino, The not-so-secret 
functions of the mystikos', REB^ 42 (1984), 229—40, repr. Erudition and transformation in medi- 
eval Byzantium (London, 1991). 

Anthony died 1 February 901; Nicholas was promoted 1 March 901. He was bom in 852, in Italy. 
He came to Constantinople and became an associate ol Photios. When Photios withdrew irom 
public life, Nicholas retreated to St Typhon, which is where Leo VI went to find him, to make him 
his mystikos. A wealth of letters and other writings of Nicholas survives: Nicholas /, Patriarch of 
Constantinople Letters, ed. and tr. R. J. H. Jenkins and L. G. Wesierink (CFHB, 6, Washington, 
DC, 1973). 

Eudocia Baiane, VEuthymii , ed. Karlin-Hayter, 63, no doubt a re lat ive of the Ba la nos who 
denounced the machinations of Leo Apostypes to Basil l. Eudocia gave birth to a boy (named 
Basil) but he died a few days after his mother. 

12 April 901, Easter day. 

^ By imperial fiat Leo had Theophano listed as one of the saints, her rather meagre list of miracles 
notw ith standing: G. Dagron, Theophano, les Samts-Apotres et Peglise de To us-Les- Saints', 
Melanges Zakythenos, Symmeikta , 9 (1994), 211-18. Her shrine stood close to Holy Apostles, i.e. in 
the very centre of Constantinople: Jan in, Eglises et monasteres, 1, 389. 

64 Some texts attribute this church to Basil L It was located at Topoi, the lower part of the Serail- 
point: Jan in, Eglises el m onus teres , 298—300. 

This, the last Byzantine stronghold of any significance in Sicily, fell on 1 August 902. 

On th is large Aegean island: J. Koder, Aigaion Pelagos (Die nordliche Agais) (TIB, 10, Vienna, 
1998), 205-9. 

Mid-Pentecost, 11 May 903. On the ceremonies for mcsopcntecoste: De caerim Vogt, 1.261, 92—100. 
This vast church, one of the extremely few pre-Constantin ian foundations in the area, stood out- 
side the Constantinian wall, close by the cistern of Mokios: Janin, Eglises et monasteres y 1, 355-8. 
Although the oikonomos was a monk at the time of the attack, the monastery of St Mokios did not 






John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

When it came time for the offertory, just as the emperor was approaching 
the holy doors, a man leapt from the ambo and dealt him a blow on the 
head with a massive, heavy club. He would have killed him immediately if 
th e end of the club had not caught the hanging chandelier and lost some- 
thing of its impetus. Blood, was flowing freely from the emperors head 
while the officials filed in disorder. Alexander, the emperors brother, was 
not present at the offertory, allegedly taken ill — which led many to think 
that it was he who had hatched this plot. The emperors attacker was 
arrested and subjected to prolonged torture but he revealed nothing of any 
accomplice. They cut off his hands and feet then burned him in the sphen- 
done [hairpin bend] of the Hippodrome. Henceforth, this procession was 
suspended, in spite of the repeated requests addressed to the emperor by 
Mark, the wisest of monks and oeconomus of this monastery (he who 
completed the Tetraodion for Holy Saturday by Kosmas the Great). When 
the emperor refused his request, the monk said: [182] ‘O emperor, do not 
be angry or dismayed, for it is foretold in writing by the prophet David 
that you should suffer, when he speaks of “All evil the enemy accomplished 
in your sanctuary; and those who hate you have made their boast in the 
midst of your feast.’ But you, Lord-and-Master, you are destined to rule 
the empire for ten more years from now,’ and that is how it was. He died 
ten years later on the very day on which he was wounded. 

22. The emperor Leo took a fourth wife, Zoe Karbonopsina, 7 ' who lived 
with him some considerable time uncrowned. 

23. When the sons of Hagar learned that the Bulgarians were wearing 
down the Romans by their incursions, they armed a fleet and sent it against 
the Roman shores. They appointed a renegade Christian, Leo of Attaleia/ 2 
to command the fleet. He had taken up residence in Tripoli 71 and that 
was how he came by the name by which he was known [Tripolitcs]. The 

exist prior to the reign of Basil II: P* Magda lino, Constantinople me die vale: etudes sur Involution 
des structures urbaines (Paris, 1996), 62. 

The detailed account of this assault in the VEuthymii , ed. Karl in-Hay ter, 67, presents Alexander’s 
attitude in a different light. 

Ps. 73:3b -4, OX 

T1 Zoe of the coal-black-eyes* was of the same distinguished family as Tbeophanes Confessor, 
the chronicler. One oi her great-grandfathers, Photeinos, had been strategos of the Anatolikon 
theme under Michael II: Theophanes Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 76; one of her sisters was married to 
Himerios: VEuthymii , ed. K arlin-Hay ter, 109. 

T - Attaleia, the principal port of the Kibyrrhaiote (naval) theme, played a key role in the fight against 
the Arab pirates. Leo would have been captured as a youth and subsequently become a Moslem. 
There are inscriptions indicating that the walls of this town underwent reconstruction under Leo 
VI: II. Gregoire, Recueil des inscriptions greccjues-chretiennes d’Asie Min cure (repr. Amsterdam, 
1968), 103—4. 

73 Tripoli in Lebanon. 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


news of Tripolites reached the emperor at Boaitios’ Market 74 where he had 
gone for the dedication ceremony of the monastery of Christopher, 75 his 
protovestiarios. The messengers added that the object of the onslaught 
was the capital itself, no less. The emperor dispatched Eustathios, at that 
time droungarios of the fleet, with a fleet, but being unable to withstand 
Tripolites he returned empty-handed, pursued [by the Hagarene] into the 
straits of the Hellespont and as far as Parion/ 6 When this was reported 
to the emperor, he succumbed to [183] despondency and uncertainty. He 
handed over the naval forces to Himerios, the protoasekretis, and sent him 
against Tripolites. Himerios sailed past Abydos into the Aegean Sea a nd 
anchored off Strobilos. 7 Then he set sail tor Imbros, passed Samothrace 
and discovered the enemy in the harbour at Tbasos, 7 * But when he saw 
their superiority both in numbers and in strength, he dared not approach 
them. 79 Reversing his direction, Tripolites then came to Thessalonike, 
blockaded and captured it/ 1 taking prisoner the commander, Leo 
Chatzilakios. There was much bloodshed and many went into slavery. 

24. A koubikoularios named Rhodophyles had been sent to Sicily 
on business with a hundred pounds in gold. He fell sick and entered 
1 hessalonike in the hope oi being treated. When Tripolites laid hands 
on hi m, he tortured him at length because of the gold and killed him, 
because he insisted that he had none. He had in fact deposited [the gold] 
along the way and Symeon the asecretis recovered it on his way through. 
When Tripolites declared his intention of razing the city to the ground, 
Symeon persuaded him to accept the gold and spare the city, and so it 
was.* 1 Tripolites took the gold and went back home. Such was the emperors 

74 Kata to emporion tou Boaitiou , Flusin translates £ au comptoir du BoaitionJ presumably the exact 
significance remains unknown. 

75 The name of the monastery is not known. It was in Asia, on the northern shore of the 
Propontis: Janin, Grands centres , n, 57. 

76 An archbishopric on the southern shore of the Marmora at the entrance to the Hellespont. Thus 
Leo was at thi s time aiming at Constantinople. 

77 Strobilos (Aspat today) was an important port of the Kibyrrhaiote theme, located in Caria. From 
there Himerios could intercept communications with Leo's fleet, which must have sailed out 
of the Propontis and returned to the Aegean: C. Foss, 'Strobilos and related sites', History and 
archaeology of Byzantine Asia Minor (Aldershot, 1990), no. xir. 

78 Himerios was now sailing into the northern Aegean. On Imbros: Koder, Aigaion Pelagos, 177-9; 
on Imbros, Koder, Aigaion Pelagos, 291=3. 

7 ^ Tli at neither Eustathios nor Himerios dared to confront the opposing fleet indicates that this was 
of unusual magnitude, combining a s it did the fo rces of Leo, Damian and t lie Egyptians. 

So 31 July 904. There is a narrative of the capture of Thessalon ike by Kameniates, who says he wit- 
nessed the events - but Kazhdan did not believe he did: A. P, Kazhdan, ‘Some questions addressed 
to the scholars who believe in the authenticity of Kameniates* Capture of Thessalonica', BZ y 71 

(1978), 101-14. 

81 The same story is to be found in VEuthymii , ed. Karlin-Hayter, tot, where Symeon is praised for 
his action. 

i 7 8 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

approval of what Symeon had done that he promoted him patrician and 
protoasekretis. When the admiral Himerios learnt that the Saracens were 
going back home, he took off in pursuit. Putting into Crete, they gave the 
Cretans a portion of their booty and then returned home unharmed, leav- 
ing Himerios sitting in Lemnos, no th ing accomplished. The emperor now 
sent two most valiant commanders to the east: Eustathios, a scion of the 
house of the Argyroi and Andronikos of the Doukai, both of whom had 
gained many victories over the Hagarenes. 82 

25. [184] That same Samonas who had been granted such illustrious hon- 
ours by the emperor for revealing the conspiracy now fled the country with 
treasure and horses, under pretence of visiting his monastery. He cut the 
hamstrings of the government horses at each relay stage. The emperor sent 
the hetaireiarch, Basil Kamateros, 3 ’ and George Krinites after him. It was 
the droungarios Nikephoros Kaminas 85 who caught up with him as he was 
about to cross the [river] Halys and arrested him, his many prayers and 
promises of gifts nothwithstanding. When [Samonas] could not prevail, he 
sought refuge at the cross of Syricha, pretending that he was going there 
to pray. Then came Constantine, the son of Andronikos Doukas, 37 who 
took charge of him and returned to the city with him. When they entered 
Constantinople, the emperor ordered [the prisoner] to be detained in the 
palace of the caesar Bardas. As for Constantine Doukas, even though he 
knew full well that Samonas had been attempting to find refuge in Melitene, 
t fie emperor declared that he was not to say this before the senate, but rather 
to say that he was going to say his prayers at Syricha (for the emperor wanted 
Samonas to be pardoned). So, early in the morning he convened the Senate, 
brought Constantine into the midst of the house and questioned him under 

Sl lli is is the second time that the names of Doukas and Argyros are associated in connection 
with fighting in Asia Minor. According to Arab sources (the Greeks being silent), Eustathios 
was hypostrategos (commander-in-chief) of the Anatolikon theme while Andronikos was probably 
domestikos of the scholai: D. L Polemis, The Doukai: a contribution to Byzantine prosopography 
(University of London Historical Studies, 22, London, 1968), 16—21. Th is successful campaign 
was conducted in retaliation for the naval preparations being made by Leo of Tripoli, 

The monastery of Speira at Damatrys. The palace of Damatrys faced Constantinople from 
the other side of the Bosporus, a little way inland, on the slopes of Mount Auxentlos: Jan in, 
Co ns tantinopley 147—8. 

84 Probably a relative of Perron as Kamateros, the builder of Sarkeh 

Theophanes Continuatus , ed, Rekker, 369, says the man’s name was Nikephoros Kallonas; the fam- 
ily was related to Constantine VI L 

86 Fortress of Charsianon to the nor th of the Halys, probably today's C^u kur, 50 km north-east 
of ( iaesarea, I he monastery of the Holy Cross possessed a portion of the True Cross: Hi Id and 
Restle, Kappadokien, 281; also H. Ahrweiler, ‘Sur la localisation dii couvent de T imios Stauros de 
Syricha’, Geographica byzantina , ed. H. Ahrweiler (Paris, 1981), 9—15. 

87 Constantine achieved so many successes against the Arabs that Michel Psellos, Chronvgraphie , 
ed. E. Rena old (Paris, 1967), trs. E. R. A. Sewter (London, 1953)* n, 140, cites him among the 
illustrious ancestors of h is friend Constantine Doukas, the fu ture emperor. 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


oarh in these words: ‘Before God and on my head, did Samonas flee to Syria 
or not?’ Now Constantine (who had great respect for oaths) had been led to 
believe that it would be without oaths that he should conceal the truth. So 
he confessed before them all that Samonas had been heading for his own 
home town of Melitene. The emperor angrily dismissed him and ordered 
Samonas [still] to be detained in the caesar’s [palace]. Some time later he 
was released from there and restored to his former rank. 

2 6. A boy child was born to the emperor by his fourth wife, Zoe. [185] 
At his birth a comet appeared, its tail towards the east, and it shone for 
forty days. 90 The patriarch Nicholas baptised the child in Hagia Sophia; 
Alexander, the emperor’s brother, 91 the patrician Samonas and the leading 
senators received him from the holy font. The marriage of Leo with Zoe 
was solemnised by Thomas the priest (who was also degraded for this) 
and [the emperor] proclaimed her augousta. , : This is the reason 94 why the 
patriarch forbade the emperor to enter the church; 95 hence he traversed the 
right-hand section [of the church] to reach the mitatorion. 96 



9 2 

88 This house arrest lasted tour months: Leo the Grammarian, ed. Bekker, 279. These events took 
place in the spring and summer of 909: R. H. Jenkins, "The ‘Flight’ of Samonas*, Speculum , 23 
(19,] 8), 217—35, repr. The ‘Flight* of Samonas*, Studies, no. x* 

The significance of this episode is unsure; hut it does explain the avowed hatred of Samonas for 
the DoukaL 

Constantine VII was born 3 September 905: D. Pingree, ‘The horoscope of Constantine VII 
Porphyrogenitus’, DOP, 27 (1973), 217—31. Since the father was governing the empire when the birth 
took place, the child was porphyrogennetos , 'horn in the purple 1 , and it was by that title that Leo 
habitually referred to him. This is why he is so known to posterity, even though he was by no means 
the first child to be born in the purple*: G. Dagron, 'Nes dans la pourpre’, TM y 12 (1994), 105-42, 

6 January 906. 

The reading 'the emperor's brother* is a correction of Th urn. All the MSS except _V 1 say simply 
'the emperor Alexander*. Alexander had been co-emperor since 879. The choice of Alexander as 
a godfather is understandable, Leo, fully aware that his brother detested him, wanted to protect 
the child in the event that he (the father) should predecease Alexander (the uncle). This he did by 
placing one more ethical hurdle between Al exander and Constantine. 

It was in April 906 that Zoe Karbonopsina became empress in the full sense of the wo rd, repla- 
cing the young Anna in official ceremonies. 

It was Leo’s decision to marry Zoe which triggered the so-called Tetraganiy affair. The church per- 
mitted second marriages but not third and Leo had himself confirmed that third marriages were not 
allowed in one of his novels. Hence his own fourth marriage was a scandal. Leo could not hack down 
because only legitimate marriage could secure the succession of Constantine VII and thus secure 
the endurance ol the dynasty. Although Alexander had been married twice, there was no issue. To 
complicate matters, Leo could rely on the support of the Roman church which was more tolerant 
concerning the marriage of widowers. Leo Choirosphaktes was sent to the court of Pope Sergius III. 
Fora synopsis of this matter and full bibliography: G, Dagron, Histoiredu christianisme , iv: Eveques , 
moines et empereurs (610-1054 ), ec ^ G. Dagron, P. Riche and A. Vauchez (Paris, 1993), 188-94. 

On two occasions (Christmas 906 and Epiphany, 6 January 907) the emperor arrived in proces- 
sion with the senate only to be denied entry. Nicholas tried to find a compromise, but A ret has of 
Caesarea led a very vigorous opposition party: Tougher, Leo VI , 160. 

96 This was a small chamber somewhere (it is not certain where) in the church where the emperor 
changed his robes and sometimes took light refreshment with the senior dignitaries. There may 
have been two such chambers: ODB y 11, 1353. 




John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

27. The patrician Samonas, the emperors most artful collaborator in all 
things wicked and illegal, was appointed parakoimomenos. It was he who 
put the emperor up to forcing the reluctant patriarch to receive him in the 
church. At the beginning of February [the emperor] summoned the patri- 
arch and insistently requested to be received. 17 When he refused to grant 
this request, they put him on a warship at the Boukoleon and brought him 
over to Hiereia. Then they conducted him on foot to the Galakrenai 
monastery, which he had founded. Before very long Euthymios the syn- 
kellos was appointed patriarch, a man who possessed the highest degree 
of godliness and virtue. 1 hey say that at first he refused the patriarchate but 
was then persuaded to accept it by a divine revelation. It was the emperors 
intention to proclaim a law permitting a man to have three or even four 
wives in succession and many illustrious persons were in favour of this 
move; but the patriarch [Nicholas had] opposed this with all his might. 

28. [186] In the month of June the emperor Leo was invited by 
Constantine Lips to come to the monastery he had renovated near to 
Holy Apostles’ for the dedication service and a dinner. Suddenly a strong 
wind they call ‘lips’ blew up from the south-west which shook many 
buildings. It disturbed and frightened the people so much that they all 
fled from their houses into the open air. 01 Then a shower of rain put an 
end to this tempest. 

97 On 1 February, even though he was opposed 10 any compromise {oikonamia), the patriarch 
together with the metropolitan bishops participated in ail imperial banquet — still refusing to 
give any ground: Symeonis magistri , 28S— 9. Nicholas' connections with the Doukai strengthened 
the emperor’s determination to set the patriarch aside, 

98 A control post on the European ha nk of the Bosporos for the sea passage to the Black Sea: Janin, 
Grands centres , 11, 35—6* This is where the iconoclast council of 754 was held* Nicholas resigned 
when faced with the alternative of being charged with high treason: VEuthymii , ed* Karl in- 
Hay ter, 91, 





10 % 

This detail is explained by the other chroniclers (e*g* Theophanes Continuatus) who report that it 
had been snowing heavily* 

The exact location of this monastery is unknown, but the route ta ken ■suggests it was on the 
Asiatic shore of the Bosporos* 

Euthymios was born c , 834 in a town named Seleukeia, possibly in Isauria but more likely the 
one in Pisidia. He had supported Leo when he was accused by his own father, Basil I, after whose 
death (886) he was appointed hegoumenos of the Constantinopolitan monastery of Psmathia* 
He became Leo’s spiritual director and was made synkellos, i.e. patriarch designate (usually). In 
all probability he succeeded Nicholas in February 907* VEuthymii , ed* KarlirvHayter Is the main 
source of information about him* 

June 907* This is probably the same Constantine Lips mentioned in DAL At the time of the 
inauguration of his monastery he was anthypatos and grand hetaireiarch: ODB , II, 1232—3* The 
monastery is still standing: now the Fenari Isa Camii in the Lykos valley: Jan in, Eglises et monas- 
teres , 1 , 307—10; W* Muller- Wiener, Bildlexikon zur Topographic Istanbuls (Tubingen, 1977), 126—31* 
According to Theopbanes Continuatus , ed. Bekker, 371, whom Skylitzes is following here, many 
people thought that this violent disturbance presaged the end oi the world* On the eschatological 
expectations of the Later Romans: (most recently) P. Magdalino, 1 I lie year iooo( Byzantium in the 
year loooy ed. P, Magdalino (The Medieval Mediterranean, 45, Lieden and Boston, 2003), 233—70* 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


29. When the Hagarene fleet put out to sea against the Romans, the 
emperor placed Himerios, logothete of the drome, in charge of the Roman 
fleet. Andronikos Doukas was ordered to accompany him to oppose the 
Hagarenes. But Samonas was the implacable enemy of the house of the 
Doukai because he had been apprehended by Constantine. He succeeded in 
persuading one of Andronikos’ friends to write to him secretly not to go on 
board ship because Himerios had a directive from the emperor (at Samonas’ 
instigation) to blind him. On receiving this letter, [Andronikos] became 
reluctant to accompany Himerios, so the latter was obliged to set out alone 
to engage the enemy — on 6 October. 04 Engage them he did; put them to 
flight and annihilated them. When Andronikos heard of this he lost all 
hope. Gathering up his things, his relations and his servants, he went and 
occupied a fortress named Kabala, ° s situated above Iconium, looking for 
an opportunity to rebel. 10 ' Seizing every opportunity that presented itself of 
aggravating and worrying the emperor, Samonas would say: 1 have known 
for a long time that this man was fomenting insurrection and that he should 
be nipped in the bud. But since the suitable and convenient chance of doing 
that has been lost by your procrastination, O emperor, and the enemy is 
now slipping out of our hands, we must use the second- [187] best method 
lest he secretly take further action rather than suffer punishment.’ Spurred 
on by these words as though with a spear-point, the emperor sent Gregoras 
Iberitzes, domestikos of the scholai, a brother-in-law of Andronikos , with a 
considerable force against Andronikos. 107 On hearing this, and also that the 
patriarch Nicholas (on whom he was counting greatly) had been thrown 
out of the church, he abandoned Kabala and fled with his entire household 
to the Hagarenes. The amermoumnes gave him an honourable and mag- 
nificent reception, but when the emperor considered what a good strategist 
he had lost and what a dangerous enemy he wou Id find in him, he became 
depressed and ill-humoured, casting about hor some means of restoring him 
to the Romans. A letter imperial was drawn up granting him a complete 
amnesty for his misdeeds and the right to return to his home, where he 
wo uld recover his former prosperity plus a myriad other gifts and benefits, 
ihe document was rolled in wax to give it the appearance of a candle; then 
they gave it to a Saracen whom they had brought out of the praetorium and 

.□4 Th 

e year is uncertain; Vasil lev and Canard* it, 185, note 1 gives 905 while Tougher, Leo V7, 209 
opts for 906* 

105 Kabala is 11 km from Iconium: K. Belke and M. Res tie, Galatien und Lykaonien (TIB, 4, Vienna, 
1984), 182 3, Presumably Andronikos' behaviour is explained by the discovery of his compromis- 
ing correspondence with the patriarch Nicholas which provided evidence of treason* 
lofN September 905 or 906* 

]07 Iberitzes was the father-in-law of Andronikos: Polemis, Doukai , 25* 

1 82 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

won over with opulent [gifts], persuading him to go to Syria and hand the 
letter to Andronikos. As the Saracen was leaving, Samonas took him aside 
and asked him: ‘Do you know what you have there?’ — indicating the ‘can- 
dle’. When the other confessed his ignorance, he said: ‘The wax given to you 
is the destruction of Syria; if you have any concern for your race and co-re- 
ligionists, deliver [the ‘candle’] into the hands of Ouzer.’ To ensure the man 
perform the requested service, he showered him with a diversity of valuable 
gifts. When he arrived in Syria the man handed the candle to Ouzer, who 
took it apart and found the letter, read what was in it and reported it to the 
amermoumnes. He immediately flung Andronikos and his company into 
prison where for a long time they were severely mistreated. Some of them, 
unable to tolerate the hardship of imprisonment, were compelled to deny 
their own faith. It was in these circumstances that Andronikos departed 
this life. Before that, and with his knowledge, Constantine his son [188] 
and some others who were with him were planning an escape (there were 
plenty of people still in gaol with him because they refused to abjure their 
own undeniable faith). These people ‘broke their bonds asunder’, 1 fled the 
prison, let themselves down with a rope, got some horses and made good 
their escape. Sometimes they eluded their pursuers by turning and fighting 
the soldiers sent to apprehend them, sometimes by scattering gold; thus 
were they able to reach the Roman boundaries. The emperor quickly sum- 
moned Constantine to his presence, showering him and his companions 
with diverse gifts."" 1 

30. When the audience was over, just as Constantine was leaving the 
Chrysotriklinos (for that was where the emperor had received him), he 
called him back and, lifting his eyes to the icons of Christ and the Mother 
of God ab ove the door, 10 said this to Constantine: Do not let your name 
betray you, Constantine, nor think to rule the Roman empire because ot 
it, for the empire is being kept by God for my son, Constantine. This h as 
been revealed to me by godly men empowered by their purity to foresee 
the future. Remain in the rank you have been assigned and do not aspire 


Ps. 2:3a* 

109 Constantine returned to the capital during the winter 907— 8, Polemis, Doukai , 21—5: VI* Canards 
'Deux episodes des relations djplomatiques araho-byzantines au xe siecle\ Bulletin d etudes orien - 
tales , Damascus 13 (1949—51), 51—69, repr* M. Canard, Byzance et les musulmans du Proche-Qrient 
(London, 1973), no. xii; R* J* H. Jenkins, Leo Choeros pha ctes and the Saracen vizier , ZRVI, 8 
(1963), 167-75, re P r - J enkins, Studies , no. xi. 

no M 

ichael III had restored the Chrysotriklinos; two of the epigrams in the Anthologia palatina 
describe its decoration: there was a representation of an enthroned Christ in the apse which 
ho used the throne while the Virgin was portrayed above the western door, surrounded by the 
emperor, the patriarch and some saints: Jan in, Constantinople , T15 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


insanely beyond your station. Otherwise, be assured that your head, the 
head of a pretender, will pass through this door separated from your body,’ 
which is what eventually happened. After the death of Leo, Constantine 
did rebel; he was executed in the treasury and his head was taken to the 
emperor through the aforementioned door, dripping with blood and 



On the grounds of some suspicion the emperor dismissed the m agister 
Eustathios Argyros from his command (he was droungarios of the watch). 
He went to his home where he died of poisoning, much regretted by both 
the army and the navy, [189] where his heroic deeds were held in remem- 
brance. He was buried in the Charsianon [theme], in the monastery of St 
Elizabeth which Leo, his grandfather, had renovated. 112 That Leo was the 
first to acquire the surname Argyros, 11 ’ either from his purity of life, the 
comeliness of his body or from some aspect of his nobility. So outstand- 
ing was he among his contemporaries during the reign of the emperor 
Michael [ 111 ] that he alone, together with his household, dared oppose the 
Manichees of Tephrike and the Hagarenes of Melitene in battle — and eas- 
ily defeated them. The mere mention of his name infused terror in every 

3 1 - There came from Tarsus and Melitene to the capital the notorious 
Abelbakes 1 ' 4 and the father of Samonas, sent to arrange an exchange of 
prisoners. 11 The emperor received them in great style, especially decorating 
the Magnaura [palace] for the occasion. He also lavishly adorned the Great 
Church and took them there, where he showed them all the objects wor- 
thy of veneration and also the vessels, vestments and the like, which were 
used in divine worship. It was unworthy of a Christian state to expose to 
the eyes of persons of another race and of a different religion th ose things 
which are even hidden from Christian men whose lives are less than order- 
ly. When the father of Samonas saw the trust his son enjoyed with the 
emperor and beheld his glory and honour, he would have preferred to stay 

:]i There is more on this tailed revolt below: reign of Constantine VII as a minor, c« 2, 

]1Z This action has been mentioned already: reign of Michael III, c* 8. Leo was actually the father 
of Eustathios: J. R Vannier, Families by zan lines: les Argyroi (IXe— XI le siectes) (ByzSorb, 1, Paris, 
T9 75), 22, reproduced, in C hey net, Societe, 526—8. 

113 Argyros means 'that which is whited especially silver. The various explanations advanced by 
Skylitzes and his source Jheophanes Continuatus , 374, suggest that the original meaning of the 
name had been lost. It may also refer to the immense riches of the Argyroi. 

114 Abd al-Baqi was a grandee of the emirate of Tarsus, sometime commander of the forces 
there: Vasil iev and Cana rd, n, 193* 2 3 °* 

The object of this embassy in spring 905 was to effect the exchange ol prisoners which the deser- 
tion of Andronikos Doukas had interrupted. 

116 A rare expression of personal conviction by the author. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

with his son and forsake his home town, Melitene, but Samonas wou Id 
not agree to this, demanding that he go back home, retain his own reli- 
gion and wait for his [son’s] return at the first opportunity. 

32. At the time of the feast celebrating the descent of the Holy Ghost in 
tongues of name upon the Apostles, the emperor crowned his own son by 
the hand of Euthymios the patriarch. 117 Samonas, anxious to find favour for 
himself in the sight of the empress, presented to the augousta to wait upon 
her Constantine, [190] a eunuch originally from Paphlagonia, who was his 
own personal servant.' 1 Constantine became so beloved both by her and 
by the emperor Leo that Samonas became jealous and spoke evil of him to 
the emperor, hinting that he was too familiar with the augousta. Believing 
this to be the case, the emperor sent and had him tonsured as a monk at 
St Tarasios’ monastery; 111 it was Samonas who executed the order. A little 
later, however, the emperor changed his mind and wished to have him back, 
so — again with the same Samonas as his agent — he transferred him to the 
Speirai monastery. 1 Now, one day the emperor went out to Damatrys and 
was dining at Samonas’ monastery where he saw Constantine. He ordered 
him immediately to take off the monastic habit and put on lay clothing; 
also that, when he held a feast, it was by Constantine that the cup should be 
handed to him at dinner, and he returned to the palace taking [the eunuch] 
with him. But when Samonas noted the emperor’s growing affection for 
Constantine he devised a plot against him; this was the nature of it. He con- 
spired together with Megistos 1 the koitonites and Michael Tzirithon to 
put together a very poisonous note against the emperor (it was Constantine 
of Rhodes, secretary to Samonas, who composed it). When it was written 
and sealed, they threw it into the mitatorion. As the emperor was going to 
the Great Church in a public procession, he came to the mitatorion and, 



1 19 

1 2 0 
12 D 

J 2 2 

12 ' 

15 May 908, feast of Pentecost, 

Constantine had been previously in the service of Basil the magister and prefect of the ink- 
stand (epi tou kanikleiou). In the tenth and eleventh centuries Paphlagonia produced a number of 
eunuchs who had flo urishing careers: P, Magdalino* Taphlagonians in Byzantine high society', 
fiyza ntine A si a Minor (s sixth — tw elfth cen tu ri es) ( A then s, 1998), 141-50, 

Monastery founded by the patriarch Tarasios (784-806) on the European shore of the Bosporus 
(hence outside Constantinople), 

Monastery located at Damatrys: Janin* Grands centres , II, 50—1, 

A family of this name supplied a few minor personages, among them a physician known from 
a letter of Tzetzes in the eleventh to twelfth century: loannes Tzetzes, Epistulae , ed, P, Leone, 
Leipzig 1972, Letter 74, 108-9, The meaning of koitonites (ha pax in Skylitzes) is unsure, 

Th is is the first mention of a family w^hich would provide several civil servants, mostly in the 
eleventh century, 

Constantine w^as born on the isl and of Rhodes between 870 and 880, He became a civil servant 
but is best known for his literary creations which include a description o f the seven wonders of 
the world, a description of Holy Apostles’ church and various satirical poems: P, Le merle, Le 
premi e r h u rn a n is rn e hyza ntin ( Pa r i s > 1 9 7 1 ) , 174. 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


seeing the letter introduced into that place where he usually prayed, took 
it up and read it. Great was the helplessness of those present, each man in 
doubt and none knowing who had deposited it there. The emperor too was 
profoundly disturbed and wanted to discover the perpetrator. At that very 
time a major eclipse of the moon took place, 124 so the emperor summoned 
the Metropolitan Synades Pantaleon, an adept in the science of astron- 
omy, [191] seeking to learn what the effects of this eclipse might be. As the 
adept was coming to the emperor, Samonas took him aside and asked him 
privately who was going to suffer misfortune. ‘You are,’ he replied, ‘but 
if you can come through the thirteenth day of June unscathed, you will 
suffer no further evil/ Questioned on the same matter by the emperor, he 
said that the evil would befall ‘the second person’, which led the emperor 
to think ‘the second person’ was his own brother, Alexander. As the nar- 
rative proceeds, we will discover how this prophecy was fulfilled. Michael 
Tzirithon came to the emperor of his own accord and advised him that 
it was Samonas who had composed the note, whereupon that man was 
immediately placed under house arrest and given the monastic tonsure. He 
was then brought to the monastery of the patriarch Euthymios whence, 
derided and insulted, he was transferred to Martinakios’ monastery; this 
happened before the time stipulated by the metropolitan elapsed. 126 Leo 
appointed Constantine parakoimomenos in [Samonas’] stead and he also 
built for him a monastery at Nosiai 117 dedicated to the Saviour, of which 
he celebrated the consecration ceremonies together with Euthymios the 

33. The Hagarenes sailed out with three hundred ships under the 
command of Damian, emir of Tyre and Leo Tripolites. In the month 
of October Himerios the logothete, admiral of the Roman navy, 
encountered them off Samos (where the Commander was Romanos 

]24 20 March 908* 

m C, Mango, ^The legend of Leo the Wise*, ZRVf 1 6 (i960), 68, repr, Byzantium and its image 
(London, 1984), xvi, 

2:1 Samonas was turned away c. 13 June 908. 

J Location unknown, probably in the area around Chalcedon. The monastery was still in existence 
in the time of John 1 1 Komnenos for he attached it to his new foundation of the Pantokrator. 
Eighteen monks were then living at Nosiai: Janin, Grands centres, (I, 59. 

Himerios prepared an expedition probably intending to eliminate the Arab naval forces in the 
Mediterranean rather than to liberate Crete, where he does not appear to have attempted to 
disembark: J. R Haldon, f Theory and practice in tenth-century military ad ministrations Ch. 
II, 44 and 45 of the Book of Ceremonies *, 13 (2000), 202—352, at 239—43. We know from 

Constantines Porphyrogenitus, De cerimoniis aulae byzantinae libri duo , ed. J. J. Reiske (CHSB, 
Bonn, 1829—30), 651—64, that Himerios had assembled 177 ships with 34,200 hands, capa ble 
of transporting an army of 20,000 men. Himerios set sail for Crete in the summer of 911 and 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Lekapenos). Battle was joined but he and those with him got the 
worse of it. His ships were scattered and he only just managed to get to 
Mytilene in safety. 

34. The emperor caught a disease of the bowels and remained in its 
grip for some considerable time until he was completely exhausted. He 
was scarcely able to deliver the traditional public discourse at the begin- 
ning of Lent. And when the Senate was in session, he began [192] to 
say something like this: ‘Worn out by disease, O friends, my carcass has 
melted away and my strength has deserted me. I will not much longer 
be among you in the land of the living; indeed I will not live to cele- 
brate the Lord Christs resurrection. 1 now ask this one, final favour 
of you: that you bear in mind the gentle disposition which I have had 
towards you and, in return, remain faithful to my wife and son.’ Such 
was the emperor’s speech; with weeping and lamentation the Senate 
asserted that it would experience inconsolable grief at the loss of such 
a master and emperor; that it would remain loyal to his Lady, ‘And to 
our Lord-and-master and emperor, his son, for whose sake we would, it 
necessary, die a thousand deaths.’ Thus spoke the Senate; a last embrace 
was offered to the emperor and the session adjourned. But the emperor 
did not die immediately; diseased and wasting away, he hung on until 11 
May, 13 ' when he was released from life, bequeathing the imperial sceptre 
to Alexander, his own brother. Seeing this man approach him for their 
last meeting, he is said to have remarked: ‘Behold, evil times after thir- 
teen months!’ 1 ’ 2 

This emperor was much given to learning and especially the effects of 
astronomical occurrences. He set verses to music for singing in church, 
verses of great sweetness. Letters and other works of his are still extant, 
very learned and written in the old style. He was a devoted reader of 
Archimedes, more so than anybody else at that time. 

1 29 




attacked but without success. It was on his way back in April (?) 912 that lie fell foul of the 
Muslim fleet and was soundly defeated. 

The future emperor Romanos L 

On the occasion when the emperor delivered this oration: De Cer> 2:10* CSHB y 545—8* Three 
* homilies’ of Leo VI the Wise for the beginning of Lent have survived: T. Antonopoulou, 38* 


For a different account of the death of Leo VI, quite hostile to him (possibly a fragment of 
VEuthymii): B. Flu sin, ‘Un fragment inedit de la vie d’Euthyme le patriarche i, Texte et tra- 
duction 1 , TM y 9 (1985), 119 — 31; II, Vie d Eu thyme ou Vie de Nicetas?' TM X 10 (1987), 271—60 
(commentary). On the meaning of the proverbial expression a year of thirteen months’: Mango, 

‘Legend’, 69 - 

Interpolation of MS ACEB. The chroniclers pay scant attention to the ‘wisdom’ of Leo VI, even 
though some of his contemporaries mention it; sec Tougher, Leo W, eh* v, ‘The reality of Leo the 
Wise*, 110-32* 

Leo VI the Philosopher 


Having disposed of the imperial government in the way indicated, [the 
emperor Leo] most insistently requested that his son, Constantine, be 
given a decent education and be raised in the way befitting to his rank; 
also that [Alexander] would designate him as his eventual successor. And 
so [the emperor] died. 


Alexander [912— 913] 

1. [193] Alexander the brother of Leo was still a young man just going 
into his twentieth year. When Leo died, he took over the direction ot 
the empire with Constantine the son of Leo as co-emperor. As soon as he 
became ruler he sent and brought back the patriarch Nicholas [the mys- 
tikos] from Galakrenei, deposed Euthymios and installed Nicholas 1 for the 
second time. Seating him beside himself for a silention 4 in the Magnaura, 
he confirmed the deposing of Euthymios. Those clergy who were support- 
ers of Nicholas set up on Euthymios like wild beasts once he was deposed. 
They struck him with their fists, slapped his lace, plucked out his rever- 
end beard, beat him on the neck and inflicted other unbearable tortures, 
calling him interloper, adulterer and defiler of other mens wives. That 
reverend man endured all this humbly and quietly. He was exiled to Ta 
Agathou 7 and died shortly after. He was brought into the city and buried 

On Alexander: P. Karlin-Hayter, ‘The emperor Alexander s bad name’, Speculum , 44 {1969}, 
585—96, also in Studies, no, 1 v. In spite of the statement of h is nephew (Constantine VII) to the 
contrary, Alexander was indeed the youngest son of Basil I and the only one whose paternity is 
beyond doubt: R* H. J. Jenkins, "The chronological accuracy of the Logo there for the years ad 
867— 913% DOI\ 19 (1965), 91-112, at 99* 

This is a very odd statement since Alexander (born on 23 November, almost certainly in 870) must 
have been forty-one when he became the ruling emperor, 

Alexander systematically rid hi mself of those who had been close to Leo VI, starting with the 
patriarch Euthymios; then the empress Zoc, followed by the logothete Himerios* There is a not her 
version according to which Leo himself, on his deathbed, recalled Nicholas, This is somewhat 
unlikely, even though Nicholas seems to give credence to it in his correspondence, 

A silention was a solemn conclave presided over by the emperor, at which he, having caused the 
silentiaries to impose silence on the assembly, let his decisions be known: ODB, 1896, 

This report is confirmed in Vita Euthymii patriarchae CP. Text, translation , introduction and com- 
mentary. , P* Karlin-Hayter (Bibljotheque de Byzantwn, 3, Brussels, 1970), 121, A man named John 
M a nolimit is struck the old man and would have knocked him senseless il Petronas Triphyliios 
and some others had not intervened and led Euthymios away. 

Like his source {Theophanes Continuatus , 378), our author is following a source kindly disposed 
towards Euthymios, possibly V Euthymii „ ed. Karl in- Hay ter 129. 

A district on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporos to the north of Chrysopolis. The Patriarch 
Nikephoros founded a monastery there which at one time belonged to Leo Katakoilas* Leo VI 
gave it to Euthymios: V Euthymii , ed. Karl in-Hay ter, 29. 




in his own monastery. The cleric who had plucked out his greybeard, on 
returning to his own house at the same hour, found it burned down and 
his daughter sitting paralysed and dumb beside it. She survived for several 
years, obtaining the necessities of life for herself by begging. 

i.Th e emperor Alexander s former way of life was luxurious and unbridled, 
his passions being hunting and other [194] licentious, habitual practices, for 
he knew nothing of behaviour worthy of an emperor, preferring to devote 
himself to debauchery and immorality. From the time he came into posses- 
sion of the empire and of plenary powers he neither conceived nor accom- 
plished anything worthy of note. When he became sole ruler he appointed 
as rector a vagabond named John Lazares, a wretched fellow not worth men- 
tioning, who shortly after died a shameful death: he, a cleric, playing ball in 
the Hebdomon! Then, there were his accomplices before he acceded to the 
throne, Gabrielopoulos and Basilitzes, partakers and ministers of his wicked 
deeds. These he showered with money and raised to the dignity of patri- 
cian. They say it was his intention (if God had not intervened) to promote 
Basilitzes to the imperial throne and make a eunuch of Constantine, his 
own nephew. This he would have done too if God first, and then those who 
remained faithful to Leo, the child’s father, had not stood in his way. For 
these would say sometimes ‘he is a child’, sometimes, that he was an infant 
and sickly and, in this way, they were able to save the child by deflecting 
Al exander for a little — until death overtook him. 

3. While he reigned a comet appeared in the west which those who are 
skilled in such matters called the swordfish. They said it presaged the shed- 
ding of blood in the capital." 

4. The emperor put his trust in deceivers and wizards and asked them 
about his reign, whether it would be of long duration. [195] They promised 
him a long life if the bronze wild boar standing in the Hippodrome were 
to receive from him the genitals and tusks it lacked, for they pointed out 
that he was in competition with Leo [=lion] his brother. 2 This made sense 

s Euthymios died on 4 or 5 August 917; he was interred at Psamathia. 

9 Tli is assessment of the character of Alexander reappears in the Historic? Syntomosoi Psellos, 78-80, 
where it constitutes the sum total of what is said of this emperor. 

10 Alexander did not have the young Constantine featured on the coins of his day* Alexander was 
the first emperor to have himself shown standing and being crowned, not by the Theotokos, but 
by a protector saint, John the Baptist: N. Thierry, Te Baptiste sur le sol idus d Alexandre (912-13)’, 
Revue numismatique , Vie serie 34 (1992), 237-41* 

11 I [alley's comet, visible from 9 July to 3 August 912: R. I L J* Jenkins, "The chronological accuracy 
of the Logotbete for the years ad 867—913', DOP y 19 (1965), 91— 112, at iri; repr* R* I T J* Jenkins, 
Studies on Byzantine history of the ninth and tenth centuries (London, 1970), no* 111* 

2 On the magical significance attached to some monuments in the capital: G* Dagron, 
C on sia n ti nople i rn agi na i re: etu des s u r le recu eil des 1 p atria { Paris 198 4 ) , 1 2 7— 9 o * 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

to that truly piggish man and he provided the pig with the missing parts. 
While he was prey to such mad thoughts, he ordered that the holy tapes- 
tries, the sacred lamp stands and candelabra be brought from the churches 
during the chariot races. With these he adorned the chariot races, thus 
profaning what had been dedicated to God, or rather dedicating it to idols 
in his vileness. 

5, He arrested Himerios the logothete when that man returned to the 
capital from his defeat at the hands of the Hagarenes and sent him into 
exile at the monastery of Kalypa,” threatening to treat him as an enemy 
for having often plotted against him in the days of his brother. Himerios 
survived a short time in exile and then died, consumed by sorrow. 

6, The Bulgar ruler, Symeon, sent a delegation to enquire whether he 
would maintain the peace and continue to pay the subsidy which his 
brother, the former emperor, haci paid. 1 ' 1 But Alexander shamefully sent the 
delegates away, uttering pompous, boasting and insolent phrases, making 
threats against Symeon under the impression that this would intimidate 
him. When the delegates returned to Symeon he did not take Alexander’s 
haughty insolence and threats lightly; he declared the peace treaty void 
and decided to take up arms against the Romans. 

7, On 6 June Alexander bathed, dined, drank plenty of wine and when 
he had slept came down to play ball. A pain [196] arose in his entrails 
which had been overloaded w Ith an excess o f food and excessive drink- 
ing. He went back up into the palace haemorrhaging from his nose and 
his genitals; after one day he was dead, leaving as regents the patriarch 
Nicholas, the magister Stephen, the magister John Eladas, 5 John the rector, 
Basilitzes and GabrielopoulosA He bequeathed the throne to Constantine 
Iris own nephew. When he was dead he was laid with Basil his father. 17 

He governed the empire one year and one month, just as his brother 
Leo prophesied. 

’’ A monastery within the palace. 

14 In other words* the ambassadors came to demand the annual tribute. Nicholas Mystikos, Letters , 
ed. tr. Jenkins and Westerlink: Nicholas /> Patriarch oj Constantinople, Letters , ed. tr. R. J, H, 
Jenkins and L. G. Westerink (CFHB, 6, Washington, DC, 1973): nos. 6, 40, promised just af ter 
the death of Alexander to respect the agreements and to have the tribute delivered to Debeltos. 
John Eladas had served in the treasury under Leo VI: DAI^ ed. Moravcsik and Jenkins, 256. 

Thus the empress Zoe was excluded from the regency council; the last three members named were 
all creatures ol Alexander. 

17 Alexander died on 6 June 913. 

18 Addition of MS E. 


Constantine VII , Porphyrogennetos [913—959] 

1. [197] Alexander died in the way we described and the imperial authority 
passed to Constantine, the son of Leo, now in the seventh year of his life, 
but it was exercised by the regents specified above. Nicholas the patriarch 
came to power as one of the regents and was directing the affairs of state 
together with the others. 

2. Such being the state of affairs and the realm being governed by 
regents, as we said, Constantine Doukas, son of Andronikos, domestic 
of the scholai and a man invested with very great powers, 1 was provoked 
by letters from friends and relations in the capital 1 which alleged that the 
empire was without a head; that it was being badly administered and that 
it was in grave peril of falling into the gravest danger. Ihe letters called 
upon him as a prudent and courageous fellow, the only one capable of 
adequately governing the illustrious Roman state, to return. They added 
that both the Senate and the people of the city were in favour of him 
and that he should make haste to come as soon as possible; Nicholas the 
patriarch was aware oi, and approved of, these letters (they said); this was 
because the will of Alexander had not yet been published and he was as 
yet unaware that he was named as regent for the child in it. Artabasdos 
was serving in that capacity and for this he later became dean of the 
clergy of the Great Church. He was the father of Andreas the famous por- 
trait painter. Now Constantine had already been dreaming of becoming 
emperor and was always aiming in that direction, to the exclusion of every 
other aspiration. When he received the letters he was readily convinced 
and quickly arrived at the [198] capital accompanied by a choice body of 

1 He was assembling an army to counter Symeon of Bulgaria* 

1 There had long been a faction of the Doukai at Constantinople* of which the patriarch Nicholas 
was an adherent. According to the Vita Euihymii patriarchae CP. Text, translation * introduction 
and commentary , P* Karl in- Hay ter (Bibliotheque de Byzantion 5 3* Brussels* 1970), 131—3, it was 
Nichola s w ho summoned Constantine Doukas* prior to the unexpected death ol Alexander* Once 
Alexander gave Nicholas authority over the regency council, the patriarc h did everything in his 
power to restrain Constantine* 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

troops. He entered the city in the depth of night by way of the wicket-gate 
of Michael the proto vestiarios which is near the Acropolis . 5 * 7 * * 10 Then he went 
to the house of the magister Gregoras Iberitzes , 4 his father-in-law, and 
passed the night there, he and those with who were with him. As soon as 
Niketas the asekretis was made aware of Constantine’s arrival, he imme- 
diately advised the patrician Constantine Eladikos (who happened to 
be a monk) and, taking him along, went to be with Doukas that very 
night. A discussion took place and then, before dawn broke, they went 
to the gates of the Hippodrome with torches, many soldiers and a crowd 
of people, proclaiming Constantine emperor. But the people inside the 
Hippodrome vigorously withstood them and would not open the gates. 
Constantine s commander of horse who had great confidence in his own 
courage and strength undertook to open up the gates by a powerful (but, 
in truth, disorderly) [assault] but was speared by someone within through 
the gap between the two gates. He died on the spot but Constantine, even 
though he had been driven back, was besotted like a drunken man with 
the desire to be emperor and was no longer thinking clearly. He got up 
and advanced towards the Hippodrome. The slaying of his commander 
of horse may have been a bad omen for him but it did not deflect him 
in the least from his pronounced intent. From the Hippodrome, cheered 
on his way, he reached what we call the Chalke [Gate], went through it 
and came to the [barracks of the] Exkoubitors. K The magister John Eladas 
(who was one of the regents) made the best choice he could in the cir- 
cumstances from the Hetaireia and the Elates, ; armed them with whatever 
each man had could lay hands on and sent them against Doukas. They 
approached the Doukas detachment and engaged it in a battle in which 
a great slaughter ensued on both sides. Gregory, the son of Doukas, fell 

5 Where Topkapi is today, 

4 Gregoras had been domestic of the scholai under Leo VI, probably the successor to his relative by 
marriage, Andronikos Doukas, 

5 Another Eladikos, Niketas, pro to vestiarios under Leo VI, was beaten when his master was accused 
by Santabarenos before Basil L He became papias under Romanos Lekapenos: Prodolzenie 
chroniki Georgija Amartola po Vatikanskomu spisku no, 153, dans V, Istrin, Knigy vremennyja i 
obrazniya Georgija Mnich a. Chronika georgija Amartola v dreimem slavjanorusskom perevode* tekst , 
izsledovanie i slovar , it (Retrograde T9 22), 1—651 at 23. 

The precise meaning of this and the following sentences is less than clear. 

7 Having failed to force the gates of the Hippodrome, Constantine continued along the Mese and 
arrived at the main gate of the palace which, apparently, was not closed, 

R Once he had gained entrance into the palace, Constantine had succeeded in passing through the 
barracks of the scholai and had arrived at the Exkoubitors. On the quarter of the Exkoubitors: 
R. Guilland, Etudes de topographic de Constantinople byzantine (Amsterdam, 1969), 4 14—24* 

0 The oarsmen of the imperial fleet, 

10 Slain by J o h 11 G a r i da s: VEuthymii y ed, K a r 1 i n-H ay ter, 131, 


Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (as a child) 

as did Michael, his nephew, and Kourtikios the Armenian," which 
considerably disturbed Constantine. [199] As he sped forward to encour- 
age and fortify his own side, his horse (which he spurred on to bring him 
into the front line) slipped on the paving stones which are there, throw- 
ing its rider to the ground. While he lay there all alone (for all the others 
had dispersed) somebody cut his head off with a sword and brought 
it to the emperor Constantine at the run. It was already known to the 
regents that such a fate would befall him — this for a completely differ- 
ent reason. There was a certain Nicholas functioning as tax collector in 
Chaldia who had spent some of the income and did not have the where- 
withal to pay back what was owing. He fled to Syria where he renounced 
our holy religion and took up astrology instead. He wrote a message on 
a black sheet and sent it to Thomas the Logothete; 12 when the sheet was 
washed with water the letters appeared. This is what they said: ‘Do not 
be afraid of that flashy bird Doukas; he will rashly raise the standard of 
revolt but will immediately be eliminated.’ When his revolt ended in this 
way, the magister Gregory, the father-in-law of Constantine, fled imme- 
diately to the church of the Divine Wisdom together with the patrician 
Leo Choirosphaktes. The regents dragged them out from there and ton- 
sured them monks at Stoudios’ monastery. The patrician Constantine 
Eladikos was mercilessly flogged with ox tendons, paraded through the 
city centre and imprisoned at the monastery of Dalmatos. The patricians 
Leo Katakalitzes 14 and Abessalon, 15 son of Arotras, were blinded and sent 
into exile. Philotheos the eparch had Constantine, son of Eulampios, 
beheaded in the hairpin of the Hippodrome and others with him. Niketas 
the Asekretis and Constantine Lips were searched for diligently but could 






Probably a descendant of the Kourtikios who fell before Symeon of Bulgaria, Ibis confrontation 
cost 800 deaths: VEuthymii , ed* Karl in-Hay ter, 131. 

Th is It omas was the son of Const an tine, droungarios of the watch under Michael III and the 
father of Genesios the historian, of whom no text (other than, somewhat belatedly, Skylitzcs’) 
supplies the first name: A, Markopoulos, ‘Quelques remarques sur la famille des Genesioi aux 
IXe-Xe siecles 5 , ZRVI , 24-5 (1986), 103-8, repr* in A, Markopoulos, History , no, XI (taking up the 
various references to these persons in the versions of the logothete)* On the relations between the 
Genesioi and the Armen iakon theme: E* Kountoura-Galake, H he origins of the Genesios family 
and its connection with the Armen iakon theme’, BZ^ 93 (2000)* 464—73* 

Ton pyrrou peteinou , ’cet oiseau fauve > pace Flusin; meaning obscure. 

Possibly a variant (diminutive?) of Katakalon, in which case this person would be related to the 
magister and domestic of the scholai, Leo Kai aka Ion* 

Ihere exists a seal of an Abessalom, protospatharios and strategos of Macedonia: CL Zacos, 
Byzantine lead seals, compiled byj, W* Nesbitt (Berne, 1985), 1 r , no. 78. He could be related to the 
Krinitai, for a Krinites Arotras is known: DAI, ed. Moravcsik and Jenkins, 234, 

Philotheos was the son of Lampoudios: Theophanes Continuatus , 384* He was a friend of Zaoutzes 
and he had agreed to the slandering of Euthymios: VEuthymii , ed. Karl in- Hay ter, 43 and 45* 

*9 4 

John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

not be found. The patrician Aigides, famous for his courage, and other by 
no means undistinguished commanders were impaled along the way from 
the [statue of the] heifer in Chrysopolis all the way to what we call [200] 
the Leukation. 17 Many another senator would have been destroyed with- 
out mercy and without cause by the regents mentioned already if some 
of the judges had not spoken out boldly and restrained them from their 
unjust procedures, saying: ‘Since our emperor is a child and has no know- 
ledge of what has taken place, how dare you take such action without his 
command?’ The regents tonsured Doukas’ wife and packed her oh to her 
estates in Paphlagonia and they castrated Stephen, her son. 

3. While these things were happening in the city, Symeon, ruler of the 
Bulg ars, invaded Roman territory with heavy forces and, reaching the 
ca pital, entrenched himself on a line between Blachernae and the Golden 
Gate. ' His hopes soared that he wo uld now easily take [the city]. But 
when he realised how strong the walls were, the number of men defending 
them and the abundant supply of stone-throwing and dart-discharging 
devices they had to hand, he abandoned his hopes and withdrew to 
Hebdomon, requesting a peace treaty. The regents received his request 
favourably, whereupon Symeon despatched his own magister Theodore to 
hold peace talks. There were lengthy discussions when he came, then the 
patriarch and the regents, taking the emperor with them, came to the pal- 
ace o f Blach ernae. When suitable hostages had been given, Symeon 11 was 
brought into the palace where he dined with the emperor. He then bowed 
his head before the patriarch who said a prayer over him and placed his 
own monastic cowl (they say) on the barbaric brow instead of a crown. 





Leukation is probably to be identified with Leukate, a cape adjacent to the route to Nicomcdia 
between Pendik (Pcnteichion) and D arica (Ritzion); R. Jan in, Constantinople byzantine ( AOC , 
4 A, Paris, 1964), 500—1* This fierce repression must have severely depleted the officenclass, which 
would partly explain the dismal showing of the Roman army when it was confronted with 

Th c object of the exercise appears to have been to eliminate all the male issue of this family, but in 
fact at least one son survived (see below;). 

Symeon appears to have advanced on Constantinople unopposed in August 913* The army under 
the command of Constantine Doukas was not yet ready for action and was no doubt in some 
confusion as a result of its commander’s revolt* 

This ceremony actually took place ar Hebdomon where Symeon and his army had retreated. 1 he 
place was well chosen because that is where Roman emperors had been proclaimed or crowned 
in former times* 

Theophanes Continuatus , 385, and the Chronicle oj the Logothete {Symeonis magistri > 301) say that 
the patriarch had the son of Symeon come to the palace and that they dined with the emperor, 
but that the patriarch went out to place his epirriptarion on the head of the Bui gar sovereign. This 
suggests that Symeon remained outside the walls* 

Epirriptarion * The author is trying to disguise the fact that Nicholas agreed to crown Symeon emperor 
of the Bulgars. In fact Symeon would have been under no illusions concerning Byzantine practices, 

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (as a child) 195 

After the meal* although no peace treaty had been concluded, 13 Symeon 
and his children returned to their own land, gratified with gilts. "I hat is 
what happened in this matter. 

4. [201] The emperor Constantine was constantly complaining and call- 
ing for his mother (she had been expelled from the palace by Al exan der) SO 
they brought her back in, against their better judgement. Once s he was in, 
she seized the reins of government and made a pact with Constantine the 
parakoimomenos together with the two Gongylios brothers, 24 Anastasios 
and Constantine, as her associates. On the advice of John Eladas, those 
who had been close to Alexander were sent packing: John the Rector, 
Gabrielopoulos, Basilitzes and the rest of them. Zoe the augousta 
appointed Dominikos — who seemed to be a man of action and was cer- 
tainly uncier her thumb — commander of the HetaireiaL It was on his 
advice that the patriarch was ejected from the palace. The m agister John 
Eladas stepped down of his own accord, for he had a sickness from which 
he died. Now Constantine the parakoimomenos wanted to gather all the 
reins of government into his own hands with nobody opposing him, so he 
maligned the commander of the Hetaireiai to the augousta, saying that he 
was trying to appropriate the position of emperor for his own brother. She, 
convinced by him, conferred the title of patrician on Dominikos then, 
when he came down to receive the customary blessing,' 7 she ordered him 
to remain in his home. John Garidas was appointed commander of the 






for he had lived at the capital The presence of the young Constantine is explained by the proposal to 
unite him in marriage with Symeon s daughter. There has been much discussion concerning exactly 
what it was that the Patriarch placed on Symeon’s head, Epirriptarion means a scarf-like cloth with 
which the patriarch covered his head; Symeon was surely too familiar with Byzantine procedures to 
have been taken in by that! J* Shepard, ‘Symeon oil Bulgaria - peacemaker’, Annuaire de EUniversite 
Saint Clement d’Ochridy 83, 3 (Sofia* 1989), 9—48, at 21—2 (including complete bibliography), 

Nicholas Mystikos, Letters , no* 7, 42—4, however, states that some things were agreed upon. Sec 
Shepard, ‘Symeon of Bulgaria’, 20-5, who takes into account the information contained in the 
Oratio pronounced on the occasion of the marriage of Peter of Bulgaria and Maria Lekapenos* 
In seeking to ensure the payment of tribute Symeon does not seem to have had any other object 
than to promote his own prosperity and that of his boyars; also to ensure the development of his 
capital, Preslav. A marriage with a member of the imperial family was a way of ensuring that the 
tribute would continue to be paid: P, Stephenson, Byzantium's Balkan frontier: a political study of 
the northern Balkans , you— 1204 (Cambridge, 2 GGq ), 18—23* 

Like many other eunuchs, these brothers were from Paphlagonia: Leo the Deacon, ed* Hase, 7, 
tr* Talbot and Dennis, 59. Constantine led the ill-fated expedition against Crete in 949: reign of 
Constantine VII and an adult, c, 15 

Evidently something of a coup d'etat took place, bringing those close to Leo VI back into power* 
The patriarch s attempts at conciliation were not acceptable to the army* 

When Euthymios refused to return to resume the off ce of patriarch (he was now very old), Zoe 
reconciled herself with Nicholas who, for his part, recognised her as augousta* 

On the making of patricians: De CVr*, ed* Vogt (Paris, 1939), 2:51— 60* 

P* Karlin-Hayter, TTictereiarqiie* Devolution de son role du De cerimoniis an Iraite des Offices' ^ 
JOB , 23 (1974), 107—8, repr* Studies in Byzantine political history (London, 1981), no. xvur. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Hetaireiai in his place and rhe eunuch Damian (a recent arrival) droung- 
arios of the watch. " 

5. The augousta consulted those in authority on the problem of how to 
put a stop to the inroads of Symeon who was devastating and plundering 
in the regions of Thrace. John Bogas ,( said that if he were granted the title 
of patrician, he would bring the Patzinaks against [the invader]. He got 
what he asked for and went off to the Patzinaks with gifts in hand. He 
made a treaty, received hostages and returned to the city; the Patzinaks 
had agreed to cross the Danube [202] and make war on the Bulgars. It was 
then that the famous Asotios [Ashot], son of the ‘ruler of rulers’, ' switched 
allegiance. It was said of him that if he took an iron bar in his hands by 
each end he could bend and twist it by the strength of his hands, the force 
of the iron being overcome by that of his hands. The Sovereign Lady gave 
him a hospitable reception but eventually arranged for him to go back 

6 . After a long-drawn-out siege of Adrianople which accomplished 
nothing, Pankratoukas,’’ an Armenian by race, appointed to defend 
the city, was corrupted with gold and delivered it into Symeon ’s hands. 
But shortly afterwards the patrician Basil, the prefect of the inkpot, and 
Niketas Helladikos were despatched by the augousta and were able to buy 
it back again with gold and many gifts. 

7. In that year Damian, the emir of Tyre, launched an attack against 
Roman possessions with many warships and considerable forces; he 




1 i 

A seal of this man has survived: J, Nesbitt, 'Overstruck seals in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection', 
SBSy 2:84, The presence of eunuchs among these highly placed personages is remarkable. 

In 917 John Bogas, then strategos of Cher son, was spying on the negotiations between Symeon 
and the Patzinaks: Nicholas Mystikos, Letters , no. 9, 58. 

Petchenegs: these people had replaced the Hungarians in southern Russia and were consequently 
in contact with the Bulgars — whom they were capable of attacking from the rear. The mission 
to the Patzinaks would have been in 917, the year in which hostilities were resumed: J. Howa rd- 
Johnston, “Ihe De Administrando Imperial a re-examination of the text and a re-evaluation of 
its evidence about the Rus', Les centres pro to -it r bains russes entre Scandinavie r Byzance et Orient , 
ed. M. Kazanski, A. Nersessian and C. Zuckerman (Realites Byzantines, 7, Paris, 2000), 301—36, 
esp* 324. 

Ashot II was the son of Sembat* the chief Armenian prince, whence the title ruler of rulers'. 
Sembat had recently been captured by the emir Yousou f and put to death (913)- Ashot negotiated 
with the patriarch Nicolas via the Kathollkos John V; Ashot came to Constantinople at the end 
of 914. For the most recent references to the history of Armenia in the tenth century: B. Martin- 
Hisard, ‘Constantinople et les archontes du monde caucasien dans le Livre des ceremonies II 48', 
TM> T3 {2000), 359-530, 370-5, 

DAI, ed, Moravcsik and Jenkins, 238, says that Pankratoukas and his brothers were received by 
Leo VI, who appointed him chief of the Hikanatoi, then commander of the Boukellariok He 
must subsequently have been promoted to the command of Th race since it was he who surren- 
dered Adrianople in 914. 


Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (as a child) 

reached Srrobelos and laid vigorous siege to it. He would have taken it too 
if he had not fallen sick and died, whereupon the Saracens returned home 
empty handed. 

8. The empress Zoe could not tolerate Symeon’s continual onslaughts. 
Wishing to put an end to them, she came to the decision together with the 
Senate that it would be advantageous to conclude a treaty with the Saracens 
and bring all the forces in the east over into the west, then wage war with 
the combined eastern and western armies against the Bulgars and utterly 
eliminate them. This plan was approved; the patrician Rhadenos’ 4 and 
Michael Toxaras were sent to Syria where they came to an agreement with 
the Saracens. Relieved in her mind on that score, the empress ordered the 
customary [203] distribution of pay to the troops to take place. She com- 
mitted the forces to the magister Leo Phokas, i6 domestic of the scholai at 
that time, and ordered him to strike the Bulgars. All the thematic and tag- 
matic troops were assembled at Diabasis (the plain of Diabasis is large and 
well-suited for accommodating an army). The dean of the palace clergy 
was sent with the relic of the True Cross and all men were obliged to vener- 
ate it, swearing that they would die for each other. When the swearing was 
done, the entire army set off against the Bulgars. John Grapson, a warlike 
man who had often distinguished himself by bravery in battle, was in com- 
mand of the Tagma of the Exkoubitors; Olbian Marsoules, a well-tried sol- 
dier, commanded the Hikanatoi; Romanos and Leo, the sons of Argyros 37 
and Bardas Phokas, commanded other units. Accompanying them was 
the magister Melias with the Armenians and many other commanders 
of themes. The patrician Constantine Lips went along too, perhaps as an 
adviser to Leo, the domestic of the scholai. On the sixth of August in the 
fifth year of the in diction ' the Romans and the Bulgars joined battle near 
the fortress on the Achelous; 40 the Bulgars were thoroughly routed and 
many of them slaughtered. T he domestic [of the scholai] was perspiring 







This is the first mention of one of the Rhadenoi, a family whose members occupied, high office for 
some centuries. 

In 915 and 916 the Romans, under Melias, kleisourarch of the Lykandos, gained some success in 
the east as a result of which Zoe was able to gain a truce and the exchange ol prisoners with the 
Arabs of Tarsus and Mel Irene. In 9T7 Texas and Reden os led the sumptuous embassy th at was 
received with munificence by the caliph of Baghdad, according to the reports of the contenv 
porary Arab historians: Vasiliev and Canard, 11/1, 238—43. 

This is the son of the Nikephoros Phokas who was domestic of the scholai under Leo VI. 

The sons of Eustathios Argyros. 

Brother of Leo Phokas and father of the future emperor Nikephoros Phokas: Cheynet, "Les 
Phocas 5 , 296—9, reproduced in Cheynet, S&ciete, 4 « 0-3. 

August 917, 

I he fortress shared the name of the neighbouring small river which flows south of Mesembria. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

freely and feeling faint so he dismounted at a spring to wash away the per- 
spiration and to refresh himself, but his horse broke free of the reins and 
went careering through the battle lines without a rider. This horse was 
well known so, when the soldiers saw it, they assumed that the domestic 
had fallen. They panicked; their enthusiasm evaporated and they halted 
the pursuit, while some of them actually turned back. Symeon witnessed 
all this from some high ground (for his retreat had not been disorderly), 
whereupon he launched the Bulgars against the Romans whose morale, 
as we said, was broken. At first they were stupefied to see the Bulgars sud- 
denly coming at them; the entire army turned tail and there occurred a 
most horrendous running away, some being [204] trodden underfoot by 
their own comrades, others slain by the foe. Leo the domestic was saved 
by fleeing to Mesembria. They were not only ordinary soldiers who fell 
but also a considerable number of commanders and officers in charge of 
units. Constantine Lips was slain and also the magister John Grapson, 
commander of the Exkoubitors. 

9. They sent out the patrician Romanos Lekapenos, droungarios of the 
fleet 4 ' at the time, with orders to cruise the coastline, to give support to 
Leo and to ferry across the Patzinaks Bogas had brought as allies for the 
Romans. But a difference of opinion arose between Romanos and Bogas; 
the Patzinaks, seeing them at odds with each other, went back to their own 
country; hence the help they were supposed to give evaporated and was of 
no avail. 42 Others say that the overthrow of the Romans came about, not 
like that, but in another way. When Phokas had put Symeon to flight and 
was following in pursuit, a report suddenly came to his ears announcing 
that the droungarios of the fleet had taken off with the entire fleet, intend- 
ing to seize the throne. He was thunderstruck by this report for he too 
was looking for a chance to usurp the imperial power. He abandoned the 
pursuit and returned to camp, perhaps intending to learn what was really 
going on. When word got around among the army that the domestic had 
fled, the rest of the pursuers were so discouraged that they did likewise. 
When Symeon saw them running away (for he was standing in a place well- 
suited to observing the outcome of the struggle) he poured his entire forces 
into the fray and reversed the direction of the retreat. That is the second 
version of the story. Whichever of the two is the true one, the Romans were 

4T The former commander of the naval theme of Samos had been promoted to command the entire 

41 There is no doubt that the proposed joint operation with the Patzinaks miscarried hut it is impos- 
sible to say to what extent the droungarios of the fleet was responsi ble. 

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (as a child) 199 

defeated and the result was as stated above. 41 After the defeat and the return 
of those who had survived the war, there was an enquiry into the affair of 
Romanos and Bogas. Things looked so bad for the droungarios [205] that 
a sentence of ‘guilty’ was handed down to him by the judges condemning 
him to have his eyes put out because, either by negligence or with malicious 
intent, he had failed to ferry the Patzinaks over immediately and because he 
had not picked up men returning from the defeat. He would have suffered 
that punishment too had not the magister Stephen, one of the regents, and 
the patrician Constantine Gongyles (who had a great deal of influence with 
the Sovereign Lady) intervened on his behalf. 

Puffed up and arrogant with his victory, Symeon took his entire army 
and led it against the capital. Leo Phokas the domestic, John the com- 
mander of the Hetaireiai and Nicholas, the son of Constantine Doukas, 41 
had to go out again with what troops they could find to oppose him. 
They ran into a detachment of Bulgars sent out to forage at a place ca lied 
Katasyrtai, 45 clashed with and easily routed them. Another detachment 
almost immediately fell upon them, but this they withstood as well, easily 
and bravely. There followed a violent and long-drawn-out battle in which 
the Bulgars were defeated; 46 but Nicholas, the son of Doukas, was slain 
fighting manfully, and the Romans owe their victory to him. That was 
how the war turned out. 

10. Things were not going well in the city; many of those in powerful 
positions were out of their minds, burning with a desire to appropriate the 
position of ruler, 47 and the chief offender was Phokas. He was the brother- 
in-law of Constantine [the parakoimomenos], whose sister he had mar- 
ried, and Constantine was one of the most powerful of the eunuchs who 
then held sway in the palace. [Leo Phokas] thought that by putting a great 
deal of confidence in him it wo uld be easy to usurp the imperial throne. 
So [Phokas] was talked about far and wide; nor did he go about the matter 

45 Here Skylitzes is following two different accounts of the battle, one of them hostile to Romanos 
Lekapenos, the other to Phokas. It is clear that they belonged to different camps. Only rarely does 
Sky I itzes use two conflicting sources for the same episode without opting for one of them. 

44 Thus one ol the Doukai had escaped the massacre ol his family* 

4? A location near to Constantinople; it was here that Basil I was wounded by the stag: VEuthymii, 
ed. Karlin -Hay ter, 5. 

4 ' Iheophanes Continuatus , ed. Rekker 390, and the (Chronicle of the Logotheie (Symeon is magistri * 306) 
say quite the opposite: that the Bulgars surprised the domestic by night and got the better of him 
again. Skylitzes wishes to present' the accomplishments ol a Doukas in the best possible light because 
in his day the Doukai were sharing the reins of government with the Komnenoi. This is not the only 
time that Skylitzes adjusts his text to adopt it to contemporary circumstance: C. Holmes* Basil II 
and the governance of empire (yj 6 -102$) (Oxford Studies in Byzantium, Oxford, 2005), 223-4 
47 Zoe had staked her chances on an offensive policy towards Symeon and lost. Now she was obliged 
to look for a co-emperor capable of stopping Symeon in his tracks* 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

secretly, but quite openly, as though [the throne] were a family inheritance 
and a legacy [206] coming down to him from his ancestors. He tended 
more a nd more to imagine that he would soon accede to the position 
as a legitimate successor. But Theodore (who was tutor to the emperor 
Constantine) was frightene d th at the mans ambition was beyond control; 
fearing the emperor might suffer some harm, he suggested to him that he 
secretly attach himself to the patrician Romanos, droungarios of the fleet, 
a servant of his father, whose interests he had always served. Romanos 
would be with the emperor to protect him and, if necessity arose, to fight 
on his side and proffer assistance. When overtures to this end were first 
made, Romanos refused; lheodore’s assistants tried again and again but 
still he refused. Then the emperor himself wrote a letter' 8 (which he signed 
in purple characters) and sent it to him. Romanos yielded when he had the 
letter in his hands and undertook to put a stop — insofar as he was able — 
to the designs of Constantine the parakoimomenos and his relatives. The 
negotiations and agreement had come about in such a way that there 
was whispering on this score in marketplaces, in highways and byways. 
The parakoimomenos was clearly no stranger to what was being planned 
against him, but he set no store by it, never for a moment thinking that 
anybody would dare to undertake a move against him. So he came out [of 
the palace] to make the customary distribution of pay to the sailors. While 
encouraging Romanos to put to sea without delay, he fell into a trap. 
Romanos came to meet him in a subservient manner and, by letting it be 
known that he was quite ready to perform what was required of him, gen- 
tly and gradually led [the parakoimomenos] into the snare. Unable to per- 
ceive what was being planned and conversing without guile or suspicion, 
the parakoimomenos drew even closer to Romanos, asking whether there 
were good men and true to hand, to row th e imperial yacht. Romanos said 
there were and that they were indeed close at hand. Then, with a nod of the 
head, he ordered some of the finest-looking men to approach. Constantine 
inspected them, [207] apparently approved of them and made as though 
he would leave; but as they came abreast of the flagship, Romanos (who 
was walking next to him) laid hands on Constantine and said no more 
than this: ‘Take him.’ Romanos stood still while men trained for the task 
took him aboard the flagship where they put him under lock and key. 
None of his retinue dared come to his aid; they all dispersed right away. 

The whole city was disturbed when the news of what had happened went 
abroad, thinking (not unreasonably) that a coup d’etat had taken place. 

4S Ihe young emperor was then only thirteen years old. 


Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (as a child) 

When the news reached the empress Zoe, both she and the senior officials 
were at a loss what to do; so she summoned the patriarch Nicholas and 
the leading senators and, after coming to a consensus with them, she sent 
a delegation to Romanos wishing to learn the reason for what had taken 
place. When the emissaries arrived, there where the ships were moored and 
were about to make an enquiry into the arrest of the parakoimomenos, 
the undisciplined men of the fleet rose up and drove them off with stones. 
Early next morning the empress came down to the Boukoleon, sent for 
her son and questioned his retinue how this insurrection had come about. 
Wh en nobody said anything, the emperor s tutor, said: ‘This uprising took 
place because Leo Phokas has destroyed the army, while Constantine the 
parakoimomenos has destroyed the palace, Sovereign Lady.’ 

ii. Intending to take over the reins of government from his mother, the 
emperor brought Nicholas the patriarch and the magister Stephen back 
into the palace. Next day they sent John Toubakes to remove the augousta 
from there, but she clung to her son with shrieks and tears and moved him 
to feel the compassion and pity one ought to have for his mother. He said 
to those who were taking her away ‘Let my mother be with me’; and they 
let her be as soon as he said that. [208] 

The emperor appointed the magister John Garidas domestic of the 
scholai to replace Leo Phokas whom he feared might break out in revolt. 
At John [Garides’] request Symeon, his son, and Theodore Zouphinezer, 49 
his wife’s brother, were appointed to command the Hetaireiai. Deceived 
by oaths taken by the emperor, [Leo] went down to his residence; then 
his relations were immediately expelled from the palace. He was over- 
come with grief and fear when he learnt of this; he rode off at once to the 
naval station and reported the outrage and humiliation he had su ffered 
to Romanos the droungarios. Now they made common cause together, 
sealing the bond with oaths to each other and completing a marriage con- 
tract between their children; but they kept quiet about what they had in 
mind. Romanos sent 50 an explanation of what had happened to the pal- 
ace, swearing that neither insurrection nor mutiny had been committed. 
He said that he had forestalled an attack by Phokas and was apprehensive 
for the emperor’s safety and anxious that he come to no harm. For these 
reasons he would like to come up to the palace and provide a guard for the 

4SI A Zephinezer, relative by marriage of St Athanasios, the founder of the Great Lavra, the oldest 
o f the monasteries on Mount Athos, was straregos of the Aegean Sea: Vitae duae anti quae sancti 
Athanasii Athonitae, ed. J* Noret (CCSG, 9, Tornhout, 1982), Vita A, 5; Vita B, 130* 

Theodore Matzoukes and a priest named John conveyed the explanation: Theophanes Continuatus , 
ecL Bekker, 393. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

emperor. But Nicholas the patriarch neither trusted him nor believed what 
he said, so Theodore the Tutor told Romanos to make haste and bring all 
the fleet into the palace harbour at Boukoleon. While Romanos delayed 
and tried to keep out of it, they who were encouraging him to execute the 
secret plan prevailed upon him to do as he was commanded [by the Tutor] 
even against his better judgement. And indeed, setting sail on the very 
day of the Feast of the Annunciation, the fleet arrived off the Boukoleon 
in battle order. The magister Stephen immediately quit the palace while 
the patrician Niketas, 5 ’ who was related to Romanos by marriage, went in 
and expelled the patriarch. Those close to the emperor sent the holy and 
life-giving relic of the True Cross to Romanos, and when they had been 
assured with the most solemn oaths and deadly curses that he intended 
the emperor no harm they permitted him to enter the palace with a few 
men. Up he came and made an act of obeisance before the emperor, who 
received him and conducted him to the church of the Lighthouse. 53 [209] 
Ihere assurances were given and received, whereupon [Romanos] was 
appointed commander in chief of the Hetairiai. A letter was immediately 
despatched to Leo Phokas telling him not to alarm himself or to lose cour- 
age, but not to enter into any shady conspiracy either, and to possess his 
soul in patience for a little while on his own estates, as provision was going 
to be made for him before too long. Constantine the parakoimomenos 
was coerced into writing a similar letter to him. When Phokas received 
th ese letters, he remained quietly at home, in Cappadocia. 

12. Tn the fifth week of Lent the emperor Constantine was engaged to 
be married to Helen, daughter of Romanos, and on the Tuesday known 
as ‘Galilee’ 54 the emperor was married to her by the patriarch Nicholas. 
Romanos was proclaimed basileopator 15 and his son, Christopher, replaced 
him as commander of the Hetairiai. 

1 Tins little port communicated directly with the palace. 

51 Niketas, better known as the magister Niketas (a title which he later acquired), had given his 
daughter Sophia in marriage to Romanos’ elder son, Christopher, His origins were Slav; he may 
be the same person as Niketas Eladikos, also known as Rentakios: L. G. Wester ink, Nicetas 
Magistros, L ettres d u n exile ( 92 8 —j( 6 ) (Paris, 1973), in tro d u c t ion , 23—38. 

This was the church in which Michael I took refuge after his abdication. It was renovated by 
Michael 111 who provided it with numerous New Testament relics: Phonos, homily to, tr. 
C* Mango, The homilies oj Photius , patriarch oj Constantinople (DOS, 3, Cambridge, MA, 19 v ), 




They were married on the feast commemorating the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1— 11) 
Tuesday 4 May 91 9: R, H.j.J enkins, 'I he chronological accuracy of the logo there for the years 
ad 8 67-9 1 3’, DOI\ 19 (1965), 91-112, 109. 

"Father of the emperor’, but originally "guardian of the palace’ — a title formerly (and first) held by 
Srylianos Zaoutzes, 

lire frequent changes of hetairiarch in the year 919 emphasise the importance of this position, cru- 
cial for the security of the emperor. It was thanks to the men under his command (the hetaireiai) 
that the revolt of Constantine Doukas had 1 ailed. 


Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (as a child) 

13. Shortly afterward, Leo Phokas was enticed by his relatives and his 
troops to foment an uprising. He summoned to his side Constantine the 
parakoimomenos, the Gongylios brothers, Constantine and Anastasios, 
together with Constantine of Malella. 57 He proclaimed to them that he 
was taking up arms on behalf of the emperor Constantine, but Romanos 
put out chrysobulls containing a denial of Phokas’ stated intent — con- 
firmed by the emperors signature and seal. These letters he sent into 
Leo’s camp by the hand of a woman of questionable virtue who was later 
known as ‘the imperial’* 8 for having performed this service. Other let- 
ters were sent with a churchman named Michael containing promises 
of honours and gifts to the unit commanders and men of the army, the 
intention being to incite [210] them to mutiny, but he was apprehended 
by Phokas, cruelly flogged and cropped of his ears. But the woman eluded 
arrest and spread throughout the army the [statement] she was bringing. 
Constantine the son of Michael BarysL commander of the unit of the 
Hikanatoi, was the first to abandon Leo and go over to Romanos; he was 
followed by Balantes and Atzmoros, both of whom were governors of 
fortresses. Meanwhile Leo Phokas arrived at Chrysopolis and terrified 
the people in the city by drawing up his army across [the Bosporos] from 
the stone heifer standing on a column. Romanos then despatched Symeon, 
the pref ect of the inkpot, in a galley to the army of the rebel, entrusting 
to him a chrysobull addressed to Leo and sealed by the emperor which he 
was instructed to communicate to the army at large by any means within 
his power. The sense of the letter was this: ‘Our Imperial Majesty having 
found no protector to hand so distinguished and faithful as Romanos, it 
is to him (after God himself) that we have entrusted the task of guarding 
our person in place of a father. And as he has shown us fatherly compas- 
sion, we have accepted him as standing in loco parentis to us. As for Leo 
Phokas, he has always fought against our rule; has always lain in wait for 
it and now openly displays his hidden animosity. It is now our will that he 
be no longer domestic; nor is he judged to be one of our subjects, but an 
apostate and usurper who has generated this uprising against our declared 
will, in order to arrogate the imperial government to his own person. And 
you, our army: do you willingly perform your duty, now that you know 

57 Th ese were all faithful friends of Zoe; ( lonstantine was protoasekreris. 

^ B as i like, 

59 Scion of an important aristocratic family in the tenth to eleventh centuries* 

First mention of another important family, a military family in this case, very likely from 
Cappadocia, often mentioned in the tenth century in connection with the Phokai. 

Ph okas camped in full view of the capital. This proximity explains why it was so easy for 
Lekapenos > emissaries to slip into the enemy camp. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

these things. Recognise us, your hereditary ruler, and do you segregate 
yourselves from this bitter attempt at usurpation.’ Symeon arrived at the 
[enemy] camp and published the chrysobull to the troops. As they read 
it and understood its intent, they all went over to the si de of ‘the fath er 
of the emperor’, Romanos. Phok as tried at first to prevent the circulation 
of the chrysobull but when he failed in that, seeing his forces gradually 
flowing away, [ut] he fell into deep despair and saved himself by taking 
to his heels. He came to the fortress of Ateo with a few of his most trusty 
comrades and, when he was denied entrance there, they moved on to a vil- 
lage called Oe-Leo [‘woe is Leo’]. There he was captured by Michael Barys 
leading a number of others who had rallied to his support. John Toubakes 
and Leo Pastilas were sent to bring [Leo] to the capital and, while he was 
in their charge, they blinded him. Some say this was on secret instructions 
from Romanos but sources close to Romanos deny this, claiming that the 
captors acted on their own authority. And indeed Romanos seemed to be 
dismayed, as though this had been done against his will. Such was the 
ending of the uprising of Leo. 

14. There was another conspiracy against Romanos, this one led by a 
certain Constantine Ktematinos, David Koumoulianos’ 3 and Michael, 
kourator of the Mangana. They armed some young men and instructed 
them to lay murderous hands on Romanos when he went out hunting. 
But when wo rd of th is leaked out, the instigators of the plot were arrested, 
deprived of their eyes and paraded through the city centre. Leo Phokas 
also participated in this disgraceful procession, mounted on a mule. The 
empress Zoe was accused of plotting against the life of Romanos too. 
She was expelled from the palace and tonsured at St Euphemias monas- 
tery. 04 The patrician Theo phyl akt, Theodore, [212] the emperor’s tutor, 
and Symeon his brother were expelled from the city and ordered to reside 
in the Opsikion theme on suspicion of contemplating action against 
Romanos. It was John Kourkouas,' droungarios of the watch, who carried 

' 1 This name indicates that the man was charged with caring for the imperial properties { ktemata }, 
much the same as a caretaker and pronoetesi J.-C, C hey net, Episkeptitai et a utres gestlonnaires 
des biens publics (d’apres les sceaux de Id FEB)* SBS, 7 (2002), 87—117 = C hey net, Society 2 ^7—72, 
61 Last known mention of a member of a family dating back to the time of Constantine V. Nicholas 
Mystikos {Letters, nos, 69 and 70) addressed two letters to him, 

64 She took the monastic name of Anna: V Euthymii, 137; this was in August 920, A basilica dedi- 
cated to St Eu P h emia was bu iit over her tomb at C ha Ice do n. This saint had several sanctuaries 
dedicated to her in the capital. Zoe was confined in the women’s monastery of St Fuphemia at 
Petrion, a property of Basil I in which he confined his daughters: Jan in, Eglises et les monasteres , 

L 127-9. 

The ophylaet was count of the stable: Theophanes Continuatus , 397, 

One of Romanos Lekapenos’ partisans whom he later made domestic of th e scholai. 


Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (as a child) 

out the sentence of ostracism against these men by suddenly arresting 
them and transporting them over to the other shore in ships. On 24 
September Romanos was promoted to the rank of caesar and in the month 
of December he was crowned with the imperial diadem at the behest of 
the emperor Constantine, the patriarch Nicholas placing it on his brow. 

67 24 December 920. 


Romanos I Lekapenos [919—944] 

1. [213] After Romanos 1 had. received the imperial diadem, he crowned 
Theodora his wife 1 on the same day;, Epiphany; and at Pentecost in the 
month of May he had his son Christopher crowned by Constantine [VII], 
who managed to give the appearance of doing it willingly although he was 
being coerced; but he was distraught when not in the public eye and deeply 
lamented this misfortune in private. Only the two emperors [Constantine 
and Romanos] took part in the procession that day. 

2. In the month of July, the eighth year of the indiction, the church 
was united. The metropolitans and clergy who had been at odds and dif- 
fered with each other in support of the patriarch Nicholas or ofEuthymios 
were reconciled. 4 The emperor Romanos exiled the magister Stephen 5 to 
the island of Antigone for aspiring to be emperor and tonsured him a 

T S. Runciman, The emperor Rom anus Lecapenus and his reign: a study of tenth-century Byzantium 
(Cambridge, 1929), repr, 1990, can still be read to advantage, 

1 6 January 921, The origin of this, Romanos* second wife, remains unknown, She b ore him 
Theophylact who eventually became patriarch* 

1 Christopher was older than Constantine when he became emperor, 20 May 921, The question of 
the order of precedence of the emperors arose nevertheless. Numismatic evidence reveals when 
Constantine VII was relegated to second position and when he slipped to third, indeed, disap- 
peared from the effigies* It is also significant that he is sometimes shown with a beard, sometimes 
without one, for a beardless emperor is not considered "of age* no matter how many years he has 
lived: Grierson, DOC , 1 j 1, 2:526-40 for a detailed study, 

4 July 920 or 921. The object ot this tome ot union w r as to re-establish the unity of the church now 
that the protagonists ot the former conflict were disappearing one by one. It may be that the 
famous mosaic In St Sophia showing the emperor prostrate before Christ was made at this time, 
symbolising the triumph of the church. Ihe tome established a compromise between church and 
state concerning the number ot legitimate unions one might contract* The church accepted seco nd 
marriages (except tor clergy) and even third marriages in outstanding circumstances* On the evo- 
lution of aristocratic marriage: A. E. Lalou, imperial marriages and their critics in the eleventh 
century: the case of Skylitzes*, DOP , 46 (1992), 165—76. 
s This person enjoyed the confidence of Leo VI who had supported him in the Santabarenos 
affair: reign of Leo VI, c* 6 and note 15* He w as subsequently made one the regents for the young 
Constantine V IL 

20 6 

Romanos I Lekapenos 


monk. Theophanes Teicheotes and Paul the Orphanotrophos, his closest 
associates, 7 went with him too. While a solemn procession was making its 
way to the tribunal/ the emperors suddenly returned to the palace: they 
had received information that a conspiracy was afoot. The leading con- 
spirators, the patrician Arsenios 1 and Paul Manglabites, 111 were arrested, 
blinded, deprived of their property and sent into exile. That was the year 
in which the emperor Romanos made Leo Argyros his son-in-law by mar- 
riage to his daughter, Agatha. Leo was a man of great nobility and distin- 
guished appearance, endowed with wisdom and intelligence. 1 

3. Also in the same year the affair of Rentakios took place. A native of 
the Helladikon theme, 1 he attempted to slay his own father. Terrified by 
the disorderly conduct of his son, the parent boarded a vessel and sailed 
to [214] Byzantium in the hope of persuading the emperor to put a stop 
to the sons recklessness, but on the way there he was taken captive by the 
Saracens of Crete. Rentakios, now left in possession of his father’s wealth, 
came up to the capital with it, hastened to the sacred church of the Divine 
Wisdom where he installed himself and proceeded to dissipate his father’s 
fortune. This did not escape the notice of Romanos who decided, once 
he knew of it, to get him out of the church and discipline him. When 
Rentakios got wind of this he forged an imperial letter supposedly from 
the emperor to Symeon with the intention of deserting to the Bulgars. 
Condemned for this, he lost both his wealth and his eyes. 

4. At the death of Adralestos, he was succeeded as domestic of the scholai 
by Pothos Argyros. ; The Bulgars now advanced as far as Katasyrtai, so out 
marched Pothos with the troops and made his camp at the place ca lied 
Thermopolis. 4 From there he sent out the unit commander Michael, ' son 





Hi is name is really an office; the count o f th e walls* was responsible for the maintenance of the 
wa 11s of the palace:, Listes y 336—7 

Theophanes Continuatus , 398, says these two officials w r ere creatures of the magister Stephen. 

A building on the lorum of Constantine. 

Theophanes Continuatus f says it was a creature ol Arsenios who apprised Romanos. Tli ere is no 
other mention of this Arsenios (whi ch was usually a monastic name at that time). 

Literally, hhe [emperor’s] strap-bearer’; probably an imperial footman. 

In fact Agatha married Romanos, the son of Leo Argyros: J. F. Vannier, Families byzantines : les 
Argyroi (IXe—XIIe siecles) (ByzSorb, I, Paris, 1975), 33, with all the references. Romanos was the 
grandfather of the future emperor Romanos IL 

3:1 The Rentakioi w^ere an old Helladic family of which the first one know 7 n was the patri- 
cian Sisinnios who plotted with the Bulgars against Leo III and lost his life: Theophanis 
Ch ronographia , i, ed. C. de Boor (Leipzig, 1883—5), 4°°* 

i? Being the bro th er of 1 ,eo, Pothos w r as th e uncle of the husband Romanos chose for his daughter 

34 Near to Katasyr ta, hence in Thrace and not loo distant from the capital. 

1S Michael was deputy commander ( topoteretes > locum tenens) of the scholae: Theophanes Continuatus , 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

of the patrician Leo the Fool, to reconnoitre the Bulgars but, from lack of 
forethought, he fell into an ambush of the barbarians. As no escape was 
possible, he opted to fight. Many Bulgars were killed or put to flight but he 
too received a mortal woun d and was carried back to the capital where he 
died shortly afterwards. 

5. Then a plot against the emperor Romanos was betrayed to him. 10 Its 
leader was Anastasios the sakellarios, 17 allegedly working for the emperor 
Constantine. The principal conspirators were arrested and each was pun- 
ished as the emperor Romanos thought fit, Anastasios being tonsured as a 
monk. This was the pretext for the demotion oi Constantine to the rank 
of second emperor, Romanos being first — for he claimed that this was the 
only possible way of putting an end to conspiracies. Thus, for ephemeral 
gains and for a fleeting, corrupt reign, he distanced [215] himself from 
God by perjury. That is what was happening in the city. 

6 . Symeon, for his part, again sent a powerful force against the Romans, 
commanded by Chagan, one of his leading subjects, and Minikos, 
commander-in-chief of the cavalry, with orders to attack the city itself 
as soon as possible. When the emperor Romanos learnt of this advance, 
realising that when they came they might burn down the most beauti- 
ful of the pal aces and dwellings close to the city, he sent John the rec- 
tor' 1 with Leo and Pothos Argyros, leading a fairly large troop drawn from 
the imperial Hetaireiai and from the regular so ldi ers. With them was the 
patrician Alexios Mosele, droungarios of the fleet, 7 ' and his ships. In the 






The informer was a eunuch named Theokletos, a lawyer attached to the furnishers of the 
imperial table ( hypourgia ) who appears to have had access to the emperor: Theophanes 
Continuatus , floo. 

The sakellarios controlled the financial services of the state. Anastasios was also the officer in 
charge of the chrysocheion (bullion store), in which capacity he left a seal to posterity: V, Laurent, 
Le Corpus des sceaux de Vempire byzantin , v, VEglise 1 1-3 (Paris, 1963-72), it, no. 663. 

The conspirators were: The o do ret the koitonites, Deme trios, imperial notary of the e id ikon, 
Nicholas Koubatzcs and Thcodotos the protokarabos (commandant ot the imperial yacht), all of 
them enthusiastic supporters of Constantine VII: Theophanes Continuatus , 400. 

He was sent to the monastery of Elegmoi in Bithynia: Theophanes Continuatus, 400, a monastery 
(also known as Elaiobomoi) which was of sufficient importance in 787 for its then superior to sign 
the acts of the council held in that year: Janin, Eglises et monaster es^ 142—8. 

Chagan is a title (not a name) borne by rhe chiefs of tribes of Turco- Mongolian origin (Avars, 
Khazars, Rhos, etc,). The same was true of the Bulgars until the Christianisation of the 

This man is not to be confused with the John the rector who was one of the regents for 
Constantine VII; he perished after the death oi Alexander: R. Guilland, Recherches sur les institu- 
tions Byzantines , 4 vols* (Berlin and Amsterdam, 1968), 1 r, 2T4. 

Alexios was probably Romanos* successor at the admiralty and was undoubtedly the husband of 
one ot his daughters. He was a descendant of that Alexios Mosele who was for a time the heir pre- 
sumptive and son-in-law to Theophilos: Theophilos, c. 13, above. 

Romanos I Lekapenos 


fifth week of Lent they drew up their men on the plains of Pegai 23 and 
waited. The Bulgars came upon them there with a horrendous shouting 
and launched a furious attack on them. John the rector ran away, while 
the patrician Photeinos, son of Platypous, and not a few others died fight- 
ing for him. But the rector got away by the skin of his teeth and boarded 
a galley Alexios the droungarios tried to do likewise but was unable to 
get up; he fell into the sea under the gangway leading to the galley and 
was drowned, together with his first lieutenant. Leo and Pothos Argyros 
fled to Kastellion 14 and were saved. As for the rest of the men, some were 
drowned as they fled from the enemy some fell prey to their swords, while 
others fell into the hands of the barbarians. As there was virtually nobody 
to stop them, the Bulgars burnt down the palaces of Pegai and set fire to 
the entire straits. - ' 

7. On 20 February, tenth year of the indiction, 26 Theodora, the spouse 
of Romanos, died and was buried at the Myrelaion. 27 [21 6] Sophia, wife of 
the emperor Christopher, was promoted augousta. lhen the kouropalates 
Iber came from Iberia. He proceeded through the richly decorated forum 
and was received with great honour and glory. The emperor sent him to the 
[church of the] Holy Wisdom of God to behold its beauty and magnitude. 
He was overcome by its loveliness when he came there and astounded at 
the diversity of its adornment. He declared that this sacred spot was indeed 
the dwelling place of God 1 * — and returned to his own land. 

8. The Bulgars now made a further attack on Roman territory, and 
approaching the palace of the empress Theodora 29 set fire to it as there was 
no one to withstand them. The emperor Romanos gave a splendid ban- 
quet to which he invited the commanders of the army units. Among them 

The plains of Pegai lay on the other bank of the Golden Horn, whi eh permitted the fleet to cover 
the army's rear. By this manoeuvre the Romans hoped to prevent the Bulgars from reaching the 
suburban palaces (such as St Mamas) on the Bosporus. 

14 The fortress of G a lata. 

15 Hapan to Stenon , i.e. the Bosporos. In the eleventh century Stenon was a theme* probably to be 
identified with the Tuxine* in theTaktikon of the Escoriah Oikonomides, Listcs, 358, 

20 February 922. 

The family monastery of the LekapenoL On the circumstances of this choice: A, Muller* 
4 Wiederverwendete Sarkophage?', fOB y 48 (1998)* 49—56. 

Gen. 28:16—17. The person ruling the section of Georia known as Iberia traditionally received 
the elevated title ol kouropalates from Constantinople: B. Martin-Hisard, Constantinople et 
les archontes du monde caucasien dans le Livre des ceremonies 11.48', TM, 13 ( 2000 ), 359—530, 
at 437—50. The kouroplates referred to here was most likely Ashot, who had replaced his father, 
Ardanas, who died in 92.2—3. "I he chronology is not very secure; it rather looks as though Skylitzes 
(following Theophanes Continuatus , 444-9) is presenting a series of brief notices which did not 
necessarily succeed each other within the framework of a single year. 

This was a palace situated near to the church of St Iheodora mentioned already by John Malalas; 
it was at the far end of the Golden Horn: Jan in, Constantinople , 467. 

2 Ci 




John Skylitzes : a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

there was a man whose surname was Saktikios, an officer commanding 
the corps of the Exkoubitors. When the banquet was in full swing, con- 
versation turned towards the matter of the Bulgars and the emperor gave a 
fiery speech, which elicited an enthusiastic response, urging them valiantly 
to go forth against the foe and to fight for their own fatherland. They all 
declared themselves ready to march out and fight for the Christian cause. 
Early next morning Saktikios took up his arms, went behind the Bulgar 
lines, entered their camp (for most of the Bulgars had dispersed through 
the countryside in search of booty) and slew everybody he found within 
the camp. When the majority of the Bulgars learnt of this from escapees, 
they returned to the camp and an engagement ensued: fresh Bulgars fight- 
ing against tired [Romans]; they were In good condition, while our forces 
were already worn down by the preceding battle before they received the 
first onslaught of the enemy. Together with only a few men Saktikios put 
up a heroic fight and killed many of the foe, but when he was overwhelmed 
[217] he gave his horse rein and fled. Then, when he came to a river and 
was crossing it, his horse became bogged down in the mud; he was over- 
taken by the Bulgars and received a mortal wound in the seat and thigh. 
The horse now got free of the mud, thanks to the care and cooperation of 
his attendants. Sometimes fleeing, sometimes turning back again, he and 
his attendants and cavalrymen slashing at the Bulgars, he came safely to 
Blachernae. There he was laid in the church of the Holy Casket* 0 an d died 
the following night, to the great sorrow not only of the emperor, but of the 
army and of all the Roman people. 

9. There was yet another uprising against the emperor, this one in 
Chaldi a, at the instigation of the 1 ocal governor, the patrician Bardas 
Boilas.* 1 The leaders of the revolt were a man named Adrian Chaldos 12 
and the Armenian Tatzates,’ both very rich men. They captured a fortress 
called Paiperte and there they armed themselves against the emperor, but 
John Kourkouas,' 5 commander of the scholai, made a sudden appearance 






A section of the church at Blachernae so called because it housed the casket (sows) which con- 
tained the shawl or veil ( maphorion) of the Theotokos* 

The name suggests Slavic origins. 

Skylitzes mentions other Chaldoi a 1 ittle later, with whom this Adrian was most likely connected. 
This surname means (in Armenian) one who has converted to Chalcedonianism (diophysitism), A 
strategos of the Boukeliarion theme bearing this name deserted to the Arabs in 782: Theo a nes ? 
1, 456. 

Bay hurt on the river Aka mpsis, protecting the approach to Trehizond from Erzeroum. 

John succeeded Pothos Argyros in June 922 and remaine d in oFfi ce for twenty- two years, until 
autumn 944. He was one of Romanos* best military officers (the emperor, having no experience 
of land warfare, did not lead his armies in person): Runciman, Lecapenus y 135—50* John s brother 
Pheophilos was another commander who acquired a great reputation. 

Romanos I Lekapenos 


(he happened to be staying at Caesarea) and dispersed the gathering. He 
blinded the most important of the men he arrested and confiscated their 
property, but the poor and insignificant he let go scot-free, ordering them 
to go wherever they pleased. Tatzates alone remained in possession of a 
fortress built on a high hill. Having asked for and received the wo rd of 
the domestic [of the scholai] that he would suffer no i 11, he came into the 
capital where he was honoured with the rank of Manglabitos and interned 
in the Mangana palace. But he was detected trying to escape and deprived 
of his eyes. As for Bardas Boilas (to whom the emperor [218] was amicably 
disposed), he was tonsured a monk and suffered no worse affliction. 

10. Symeon, the Bulgar chief, now advanced on Adrianople and, sur- 
rounding it with palisades and ditches, laid vigorous siege to it. The com- 
mander of the city was that patrician Leo whom they called Leo the Fool 
on account of his rash impetuosity in battle. He valiantly withstood the 
siege, sometimes bravely driving the invading Bulgars from the very walls 
themselves, sometimes opening the gates and launching an irresistible 
onslaught against the foe whom he easily repelled. But when shortage of 
grain began to afflict those within the city and famine tormented them, 
as th ere was no hope of supplies from any side, victims of necessity, they 
surrendered the city, themselves and the governor to the Bulgars. Once 
Symeon got him in his hands he remembered all the anguish Leo had 
caused the Bulgars. He punished him with innumerable tortures and 
finally put him to a bitter death. Then he stationed a Bulgar garrison there 
and withdrew, but when the garrison heard of the approach of a Roman 
army they abandoned the city and fled; Adrianople passed back under 
Roman rule. 

11. It was th en that Leo of Tripoli sailed out w ith a considerable naval 
force against the Romans. While he was moored off the island of Lemnos, 37 
the patrician John Rhadenos,’ droungarios of the fleet, suddenly appeared 
and easily put him to flight, killing nearly all the Hagarenes. [Leo] of 
Tripoli alone saved his life by fleeing. 

12. In the month of September, second year of the indiction, 40 [Symeon] 
the Bulgar chieftain campaigned against Constantinople with his entire 
army. He devastated Macedonia, set fire to the regions of Thrace and rav- 
aged [219] everything that came to hand. He pitched his camp close to 

36 His soil M ichael, had recently fallen fighting the Bulgars. 

37 This island played a key role in the fight against the Arab naval forces. 

This is he who was ambassador to Baghdad in 917: reign of Constantine VII* c. 8, 

30 Tli is was the last campaign of Leo Tripoiites: reign of Leo VI, c. 23* 

September 924; actually the thirteenth of the indiction. 



John Skylitzes : a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Blachernae and set about getting Nicholas the patriarch 4 ' and some senior 
officials to undertake peace negotiations. Each side took hostages from 
the other to ensure that no hostile act should ensue. As the patriarch had 
confidence in the [Bulgars’] oaths, there followed a discussion as to which 
of the senators should accompany him; the patrician Michael Stypeiotes 42 
and John the private secretary with executive authority 41 were chosen (for 
John the rector had been maligned before the emperor and was expelled 
from the palace, to have his laymans hair shorn in his own monastery). 
When the delegates came to Symeon and were about to open the peace 
negotiations, he sent them back because, having learnt that the emperor 
Romanos was a man of intelligence and integrity, he wanted to see him 
in person. Romanos welcomed this proposal. He sent to the Kosmidion 
shore and. had a secure jetty built out into the sea, at which the imperial 
vessel could tie up in absolute safety when it had sailed there. He hemmed 
it around with fortifications and ordered a raised platform to be set up 
in the midst of it where they could speak with each other. But Symeon 
sent and burnt the church of the All-holy Mother of God at Pege 44 (the 
one the emperor Justinian built) and burnt everything around it. From 
this it was clear that he was in no mood for peace. The emperor came 
to the church of Blachernae together with the patriarch; they entered the 
[church of the] Holy Casket where intercessory hymns were offered to 
God, then he left the church taking w ithh im the shawl of the Mother of 
God, escorted by protective weaponry. The squadron which accompanied 
[the shawl] was decked out in glorious array as it arrived at the appointed 
location; this was on the ninth of November. Symeon too appeared with 
numerous hosts in several formations of varying appearance. Some had 
golden shields and spears, some had silver shields and some copper, while 
the rest were distinguished by whatever colours they chose. [220] They 
had Symeon in the midst of them and were acclaiming him emperor in 
the Roman language. All the officials and the population of the city saw 
from the walls what was happening. First Romanos arrived at the jetty 
mentioned just now — and waited for Symeon. They exchanged hostages 
and the Bulgars carefully inspected the jetty to ensure that it concealed 

The patriarch maintained a regular correspondence with Symeon 920—4: Nicholas I \ Patriarch of 
Constantinople , Letters y ed. and tr* R. [. H. Jenkins and L. G. Westerink (CFHB, 6 , Washington, 
DC ? 1973), 14-30. 

Might this be the same Stypeiotes who took part in the suppression of the revolt ol Basil Epeiktes 
against Leo VI?: see reign ol Leo VI * c* 17* 

llo mystikos kai paradynas tenon. Mystikos we know, but paradynasteuon is not an official title found 
in the Taktika, Clearly the paradynasteuon coordinated the entire function of the civil service, 
but the emperors did not appoint such an officer on any regular basis. See cc. 13 and 14 following. 

44 Th 

is church must be distinguished from Pcgai; it was one ol those restored by Basil L 

4 ^ 

4 ^ 

Romanos I Lekapenos 


no crap or snare. Then they invited Symeon to dismount and come and 
join the emperor on the fortified platform. These embraced each other and 
began the peace negotiations. They say that Romanos addressed Symeon 
in these words: ‘I have heard that you are a Christian and a God-fearing 
man, but I see deeds which are totally incompatible with this report. If you 
are truly a Christian, stop these unjust slayings and this unholy bloodshed 
at once. Deal with us Christians as one who bears the name of and truly is 
a Christian; decline to soil the hands of Christians with the blood of their 
fellow Christians. For you too are a man: death lies ahead of you, resur- 
rection, judgement and the reward of what you have done in life. You are 
here today, tomorrow you will dissolve into dust and ashes. If it is for love 
of wealth that you commit these deeds, 1 will give you your fill of riches. 15 
Only do you embrace peace and cherish concord so that you can live a 
peaceful life without bloodshed and Christians can finally desist from 
raising weapons against each other.’ Ihus spoke the emperor; Symeon was 
put to shame by his humility and promised to make peace. They embraced 
each other and separated, the emperor showering Symeon with magnifi- 
cent gifts. A portent occurred that day which is worth reporting. They say 
that two eagles flew in the sky above where the emperors were conversing; 
they shrieked, paired up and then separated, one flying towards the city, 
the other into Thrace. Those who prognosticate from the flight of birds 
were afraid that this augured no good; [Romanos and Symeon] had parted 
without concluding a peace treaty, they said. When he returned, Symeon 
enthusiastically told his officials about [221] the modesty of the emperor, 
likewise of his generosity and freedom with money. 

13. At Christmas, second year of the indiction, 46 the emperor Romanos 
crowned his sons, Stephen and Constantine, in the Great Church. Tie 
patriarch tonsured his remaining son, Theophylact, making him a cleric. 
He ordained him sub-deacon and appointed him synkellos 47 once he had 
taken his place in the sanctuary with the company of sub-deacons. He 
promoted John the private secretary with executive authority patrician 
and proconsul. 

14. On 15 May, third year of the indiction, 48 the patriarch Nicholas 
died, 49 his second patriarchate having lasted thirteen years, and Stephen, 

4<f Romanos appears to be promising to restore the tribute, 

46 25 December 924, 

4:7 Clear indication that he was destined for the patriarchate. The appointment was totally uncan- 
onical as Theophylact (born in 917) was only seven years old, 

4S 15 May 925, Theopbanes Continuatus * 410* says, correctly, that it was the thirteenth year of the 

49 Nicholas was buried in the Galagrenai monastery, Theopbanes Continuatus , 410, 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

metropolitan of Amaseia, was enthroned as patriarch in the month of 
August. But the private secretary was accused of trying to appropriate 
the imperial throne at the instigation of the patrician Kosmas, logothete 
of the drome, who wanted to make him his son-in-law by marrying him 
to his own daughter. He was expelled from the palace but sti Hall ow ed to 
come and do obeisance to the emperor — who held him in high esteem and 
was unwilling to he totally deprived of his company. His accusers, how- 
ever, would not be silenced and indeed produced evidence to support their 
charges. The emperor had the matter investigated an d fo und that what 
they said of John was true. He was about to have him arrested and tor- 
tured when [the secretary] got wind of it and fled to the monastery called 
Monokastanos, 51 where he received monastic tonsure. Then the emperor 
tortured the patrician Kosmas the logothete' 2 at the Horologion' and 
deprived him of his command. John the protovestiarios was appointed to 
replace John as private secretary with executive authority. 

15. It was at that time that an earthquake occurred in the Thrakesion 
theme; alarming fissures yawned in the ground which swallowed up many 
villages and churches together with the people. 

16. [222] in the month of May, the fifteenth year of the indiction, 54 
Symeon the Bulgar chieftain launched an attack against the Croats. 
When he encountered them he was worsted by them in the fastnesses ot 
the mountains and lost his entire army. 

17. An astronomer named John came to the emperor and said that if 
he would send someone to cut off the head of the statue standing above 
the apse of the Xerolophos 56 and facing west, Symeon would immediately 

'' Theophylact could not succeed Nicholas on account ol his youth. It is uncanonical lor a bishop 
to leave one church for another but Romanos had no doubt obtained assurances that the newly 
elected bishop would not in any way frustrate his plans. 

Monastery in Bithynia, but it is not known exactly where: Janin, Grands centres , n, 58—9 and 

51 This Kosmas must be distinguished from the great jurist, the nephew of Phonos, who may have 
published the Novel of 93,4: ODE , 1152. 

^ From the context this wou id appear to be a horologion (timepiece) in the Grand Palacej not to he 
confused with the better-known horologion at St Sophia. 

927 AD. 

Symeon had fo light against the Serbs whom Romanos had incited to intervene against him* Two 
brothers, Zachariah and Paul, were contending for power and both were perfectly ready to change 
sides when it was to their advantage so to do. At first Zachariah favoured the Romans, then he 
was able to seize the reins of Serbia with the support of Symeon — whom he promptly betrayed, 
whereupon the Bulgar obliged him to take refuge with the Croats* It was at th is point that a 
Bulgar army ventured into Croatia only to be destroyed: DAl y ed* M oravesik and Jenkins, c* 32* 
The seventh hill of Constantinople, to the west of the city, where the forum of Arkadi os lay. Here 
stood a column w ich a statue of Arkadies on the top of it. 



Romanos I Lekapenos 

21 5 

die — for his fare was magically linked co that of the statue. Convinced by 
this speech, [Romanos] had the head of the statue cut oil and in that very 
same hour (as the emperor precisely discovered) Symeon died in Bulgaria, 
carried off by a heart attack. 

j8. On the death of Symeon, Peter took command of the Bulgars. He 
was the child of his seco nd wife, the sister of George Soursouboules whom 
Symeon had appointed guardian of his children. While he was still alive, 
Symeon obliged Michael, born by his first wife, to receive monastic ton- 
sure. When the neighbouring peoples, Turks, Serbs, Croats and the rest of 
them, learnt of Symeon s death they immediately made plans to campaign 
against the Bulgars. The Bulgar nation was suffering a severe famine and 
a plague of locusts which was ravaging and depleting both the population 
and the crops, ^ so the Bulgars were very fearful of an incursion by these 
other peoples, but they were especially apprehensive of a Roman onslaught. 
So Peter took counsel with his entourage and decided they had better 
launch a deterrent attack on the Romans. They penetrated into Macedonia 
[223], but when they learnt that the emperor was moving against them 
Peter the Bulgar chieftain and George, the guardian of Symeon’s children, 
secretly despatched a monk* 9 carrying a letter saying that they were ready 
to treat with the Romans if they chose to do so and to enter into a marriage 
agreement with them. The emperor warmly welcomed this proposition 
when it arrived and immediately sent oft a monk named Theodosios^ ‘ and 
Constantine of Rhodes, a palace chaplain, in a galley to undertake peace 
negotiations with the Bulgars at Mesembria. 52 They arrived, carried on the 
necessary conversations one might expect and returned overland together 
with a very distinguished Bulgar named Stephen. Later the guardian 
George Soursouboules arrived and other illustrious Bulg ars. While they 
were in the presence of the emperor, they saw Maria, the daughter of the 
emperor Christopher, and were highly pleased with her; she was indeed 
of outstanding beauty. They wrote asking Peter to come with all haste 
(this after they had reached a peace agreement). The magister Niketas/ 5 

S7 Symeon died on 27 May 927, le aving a somewhat weakened Bulgaria at the end oi his life, Leo the 
Grammarian says nothing about the business of th e statue. 

* 8 '111 is is a reference to the terrible winter of 927— 8* mentioned again below, fro in which the people 
oi the empire also cruelly suffered. 

His name was Kalokyros and he was oi Armenian descent: Theopbanes Continuatus , 413; Symeonis 

magistriy 327* 

60 Known as A bo u Ices: Theopbanes Continuatus > 4T3; Symeonis magistri , 327* 

The former secretary of Samonas: reign of Leo VI, c, 32, 

61 Peter had the problem of getting himself accepted as the new sovereign, especially by his restless 
brothers (see c, 23 below). This was not really a show oi hostility, 

* ' The accession of Romanos must have brought Niketas promotion; he was a simple asekretis at the 
time of the conspiracy of Constantine Doukas in 914, 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

the emperor Romanos’ co -father-in -1 aw, was sent to meet Peter and bring 
him to the capital. When [Peter] reached Blachernae the emperor came by 
water, embraced him and warmly welcomed him. They said what needed 
to be said to each other to confirm the terms of both the peace agree- 
ment and the marriage alliance, Th eophanes the protovestiarios serving 
as mediator. Then on 8 October out came the patriarch Stephen together 
with Theophanes the protovestiarios and the entire senate and blessed [the 
marriage of] Peter and Maria in the church of the most holy Mother of 
God at Pege with the protovestiarios and Soursouboules as witnesses. 54 
When the wedding had been magnificently and extravagantly solemnised, 
the protovestiarios returned to the city with the emperor’s daughter. The 
third day of the marriage celebrations the emperor gave a banquet [224] at 
the jetty of Pege, dining with Peter while the imperial galley was moored 
there. The emperors Constantine and Christopher were at the banquet; in 
fact the Bulgars caused quite a commotion by insisting that Christopher 
be acclaimed first, and then Constantine. The emperor Romanos gave in 
to them and ordered that it should be so. ' 5 When everything that is cus- 
tomarily done in these circumstances had been accomplished, Maria and 
her husband departed and turned their faces towards Bulgaria. They were 
brought on their way as far as Hebdomon by her parents and the pro- 
tovestiarios. This is the way that things happened in the city. 

19. The magister lohn Kourkouas, domestic of the scholai, was rav- 
aging Syria’ 7 and sweeping aside all resistance. He took possession of 
many fortresses, strongholds and cities of the barbarians and then came 
to the renowned Melitene which he besieged, reducing the inhabitants to 
such straits th at they were contemplating coming to terms with him. So 
Apochaps, the descendant of Amr, emir of Melitene, came to him together 

^ Ih e ceremonies were held outside the walls to prevent any unexpected action, 

Tli is adjustment of the imperial order of precedence is attested by the coins. The Bulgarian mar- 
riage in 927 was obviously a pretext for fading Constantine VII (now an adult) into the back- 
ground* Christopher died in 931: Theophanes Continuatu$ y 420* 

Constantine VII severely criticised this marriage: DAT cd. Moravcsik and Jenkins, 72— 4. On 
the marriage of Maria Lekapena: J* Shepard, ‘A marriage too far? Maria Lekapena and Peter of 
Bulgaria’, The empress Theophano: Byzantium and the west at the turn of the first millennium y ed* 
A* T* Davids (Cambridge, 1995), 121-49* Shepard emphasises that the places where the marriage 
celebrations were held (Rlachemae, the Marian church at Pege) recall the visits of Symeon who 
had been received in the palace and who burnt the church* 

The term is used to designate the whole area under Arab domination, ie. the entire eastern iron- 
tier as far as Armenia, to the north of the Syria of today* 

The chronology of events has been compressed here* A first campaign took place in June— July 
92 6, when the Bulgar peril had abated, allowing reinforcements to he sent to the east; but it only 
succeeded in ravaging the territory around Melitene, not in taking the town. It was not until 
the autumn of 931 that John Kou rko uas succeeded in imposing peace on the main parts of the 
Mel itene district. 

Romanos I Lekapenos 


with Aposalath, the commander of its garrison. The domestic cheerfully 
welcomed them and sent them off as honoured guests to the emperor. They 
met him and concluded a peace treaty, then returned to their own land, 
having joined the ranks of the Romans’ friends and allies, ready to fight 
against people of their own race on Romes behalf. But when Apochaps 
and Aposalath died, this peace treaty was abolished,' so the above-men- 
tioned domestic went to war with them, taking with him the m agister 
Melias and his Armenians. 70 First they made an armed assault to drive 
back within the walls those who had been so bold as to establish them- 
selves in open country. Then they surrounded the city, vigorously besieged 
it, captured it and placed it under martial law. They overran all the sur- 
rounding territory and brought it into subjection under Roman rule. The 
emperor constituted Melitene [225] and all the adjacent populated area a 
curacy’ by which means he brought a great deal of tribute into the public 
purse. 71 

20. The magister Niketas, father-in-law of the emperor Christopher, was 
accused of having incited Christopher against his own father, to depose 
him as emperor. He was ejected from the city and obliged to receive 
monastic tonsure. 72 

21. On 15 July, sixth year of the indiction, Stephen of Amaseia died having 
been patriarch for two years and eleven months. In the month of December 71 
they brought in Tryphon the monk and ordained him patriarch pro tem- 
pore — until Theophylact, the emperors son, attained the canonical age. 

The reality of the matter is that the Arab emir ot Mossoul, Said ben Hanidam, the first of the 
famous Hamdanid dynasty, came to the help of the people of Samosata then sent a detachment to 
retake control of Melitene: Vasiliev and Canard, Byzance et le$ Arabes, 11,1:266-8. 

90 Hi is Mel ias (Mich in Armenian) is very famous for the exploits which he and his band accom- 
plished fighting against the Arabs. He was the creator of the frontier theme of Lykandos: G. 
Dedeyan, ‘Mleh le Grand, stratege de Lykandos, REArm NS , 15 (1981), 73-102, 

71 The final capitulation of Melitene took place on 19 May 934: Vasilev and Canard, 11, 1:269. The 
'curacy* of Melitene was the first to be established as a result ol the Byzantine reconquest. It is 
extraordinary that the land was not redistributed but remained the property of the state. Thus* 
however, was totally in accord with the policy of combating the growth of great landed aris- 
tocrats, Ihe income accruing amounted to thousands of pieces of gold and silver: Theophanes 
ContinuatuSy 416— 17; Leo the Grammarian, 318, For a novel interpretation of the role o f the 
ko urator of Melitene as an administrator emerging from the former Moslem elite: L Shepard, 
"Constantine VII, Caucasian openings and the road to Aleppo*, Eastern approaches to Byzantium , 
ed. A* Eastmond (SPBS, 9, Aldershot, 2001), 19-40; and C. Holmes, ‘How the east was won in 
the reign of Basil IT, Eastern approaches > 41—56. 

1 A part of the correspondence of Niketas has survived in which he repeatedly urges his former 
friends (from his estate in Bkhynia) to intervene in his favour with Romanos [ then with 
Constantine VII: L . G* Wester ink, Nicetas magistros: Retires d’un exile , 928—946 (Paris T973X espe- 
cially Letter no. 7. 

73 This information is incorrect. Stephen mounted the patriarchal throne on 29 June 925 and died 
on 18 July 927, the fifteenth year of the indiction in fact. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

22. The same month an intolerable winter suddenly set in; the earth was 
frozen for one hundred and twenty days. 74 A cruel famine followed the 
winter, worse than any previous famine, and so many people died from 
the famine that the living were insufficient to bury the dead. This hap- 
pened in spite of the fact that the emperor did his very best to relieve the 
situation, assuaging the ravages of the winter and the famine with good 
works and other aid of every kind. 75 

23. Peter, the chieftain of the Bulgars, was opposed by his brother John 
with other powerful men of Bulgaria. [John] was apprehended, beaten and 
imprisoned, while those acting with him suffered horrible deaths. Peter let 
the emperor Romanos know what had happened and he, when he learnt of 
it, despatched the former rector, John the monk, ostensibly for exchange 
of prisoners, but in fact to find John and, somehow or other, get him to 
Constantinople; which is what happened. Ihe [ex-] rector was able to abduct 
John, get him aboard a ship [226] at Mesembria and come to the capital 
with him. Shortly after that he put aside the monastic habit, got permission 
to marry a wife and acquired both a house and great deal of property. Now 
Michael, Peters other brother, aspired to become ruler of the Bulgars. He 
occupied a powerful fortress and greatly agitated the Bulgar lands. Many 
flocked to his banner but, when he died shortly after, these people, for fear 
of Peter s wrath, entered Roman territory. They reached Nicopolis by way 
of Macedonia, Strymon and the Helladikon theme, laying waste every- 
thing that came to hand, and there, finally, took a Sabbath rest. In due 
course and after a number of reverses, they became Roman subjects. 

24. About that time that piece of masonry which they call the keystone 
fell fro m the apse of the forum killing sixty men. 77 There was also a terrible 
fire near the church of the most holy Mother of God in the forum. The 
arcade was burnt down as far as the place called Psicha. 79 

74 A further reference to the winter of 927—8, a winter which accelerated the concentration of land 
in the hands of the powerful. Some years later (in 934) Romanos promulgated a celebrated novel 
intended to eliminate the damage done to the social structure by that terrible winter: M. Kaplan, 
Les et la tern\ a Byzance, propriete et exploitation du sol du Vie au XI e siecle (ByzSorb, 10, 
Paris, 1992), 421—4 (presentation and translation ol the Novel); E. Me Geer, The land legislation oj 
the Macedonian emperors (Toronto, 2000), 49—60. On the development of huge estates: J. Lefort, 

1 Ihe rural economy, seven th to the twelfth centuries’, EHB y 283—93. 

Romanos urged the cont roll ers of the public purse and the monasteries to make distributions of 
goods and money to the poor: Theophanes Continuatus y 418; Symeonis magistri , 330-1. 

Nicopolis in ihe Epirus. 

Other sources say six men: Theophanes Continuatusy 420; Symeonis magistri 3 332. 

A church built by Basil l in the forum of Constantine. It either escaped the flames or was immedi- 
ately rebuilt, for Nikephoros Phokas made a halt there in the course of his triumphal entry in 963: 
Janin, Eglises etles monasteres , 1, 236-7. 

7 * The fi re was nourished by the material in the candle-makers 1 and tuners’ shops which were 
located there: Theophanes Continuatu$ % 420; Symeonis magistri , 332. 



Romanos I Lekapenos 


25. The emperor Christopher died in the month of August, fourth year 
of the indiction, and was buried in his fathers monastery. 

26. When the time to which the patriarch Tryphon had agreed came 
to an end, he was unwilling to vacate the throne as he had promised he 
wou Id. He asked for reasons to be given and charges to be laid against 
him justifying his expulsion from the church. The emperor’s hands were 
tied in this matter and he was at his wits’ end when [the metropolitan] of 
Caesarea, Theophanes 'Hog skin’ as they called him, a real chatterbox, 
saw the emperor’s dilemma and his chagrin at being trapped and deceived. 
He promised to bring about what the emperor longed for in the end and 
the emperor believed in his promise. Now iheophanes set about getting 
around the patriarch. He went to him and said: ‘Lord-and-master, the 
emperor’s attacks [227] on you are multiplying; he is seeking reasons for 
expelling you fro m the throne. But much as he tries, none do es he find. 
How indeed could he find fault with one who is without fault? There is, 
however, one point that they allege, those who would see you deposed: they 
claim that you do not know how to write. If we could refute this point, it 
would silence your accusers. [To quote the proverb] they would prove to 
be “wolves with open jaws”. If you will take my advice, you will inscribe 
your name and priestly rank on a fresh leaf — this in the presence of the 
entire Synod — and send it to the emperor. This way he will be convinced 
and, being disappointed in this hope, he will abandon his assault on your 
position. This seemed like good advice; the Synod was summoned imme- 
diately, and when it was assembled the patriarch addressed it in these 
words: ‘O sacred fellow ministers, those who wish to eject me from the 
throne unfairly have contrived in many ways to find a good reason for 
ostracising me and have found none. Finally they have brought this charge 
against me: they say I cannot write. So now, before the eyes of you all, I 
am going to inscribe these letters for my accusers to see and know, hence 
to abandon their unjust harassment of me.’ When he had spoken, he took 
a fresh leaf and, in the presence of them all, wrote as follows: Tryphon by 
the mercy of God archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and ecu- 
menical patriarch. When he had written it, he sent it to the emperor by 
the hand of the protothronos. This man took it in his hand, and attached 
another clean sheet above it on which he wrote a [letter of] resignation as 
of one unworthy and abandoning the throne to whomsoever might desire 

8:J The Myrelaion. Theophanes Continuatus y 420, says that Romanos wept bitterly lor his oldest son, 
whom he probably hoped would succeed him. Christopher's daughter, Maria, the wife of Peter of 
Bulgaria, came to Constantinople with her three children after the death of her father: Theophanes 
ContinuatuSy 422 . 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

it. This resignation 1 was presented to the Synod and Tryphon was put 
out of the church, bitterly decrying the deceit which had been practised 
on him and reproaching the protothronos. A year and five months later 
(which was how long it needed for Theophylact fully to attain the required 
age for archiepiscopal ordination) in February, second year of the indic- 
tion, Theophylact, the emperor’s son, was ordained patriarch.- 1 

27. [228] A Macedonian whose name was Basil gave it out that he was 
Constantine Doukas; many were deceived and rallied to him. He went 
around troubling and disturbing the cities, inciting them to revolt. Then 
he was arrested by a subordinate officer surnamed Elephantinos; he was 
brought before the emperor and deprived of one of his hands. Later, when 
he was released, he equipped himself with a hand of bronze and had a huge 
sword made. He stalked around the Opsikion theme deluding the simpler 
folk into believing that he was Constantine Doukas, and when he had 
gathered a large following he broke out into revolt . 13 He gathered a large 
fighting force, rebelled and seized the stronghold known as Plateia Petra,* 4 
and laid up all kinds of provisions there. From that base he ravaged and 
pillaged the surrounding countryside. The emperor sent an army against 
him which took both him and his followers prisoner. The emperor also 
made a detailed enquiry to discover whether any persons of significance 
were behind his insurrection, but when nothing definitive came to light, 
they had him put to the flames at the place called Amastrianond 5 

28. The emperor Romanos married Anna,* daughter of Gabala, to his 
son Stephen and invested her with the imperial diadem at the same time as 
she received the marriage crown. 

29. In the month of April, seventh year of the indiction, the Turks 
invaded Roman territory and overran all the west tight up to the city. The 
patrician Theophanes the protovestiarios was sent out and concluded an 

This story is found neither in Theophanes Continuants nor in Leo the Grammarian nor in Symeonis 
magistri et logo the tae chronic on but it is given by pseudo- Symeon the Logo there, Symeon Mag is ter, 
ed. L Bekker (Bonn, 1838), 603—760, at 742—3. Tryphon resigned. In August 931; Theophylact was 
elevated on 2 February 933, sixth year of the indiction. 

A tourmarch had been established in the Opsikion theme, which rather suggests that this was the 
region in which Basil caused trouble. It was the cparch Peter who carried out the punishment 
inflicted on Basil: Theophanes Continuatus , 421; Symeonis magistri, 333* 

This uprising shows how popular the Doukai were in Asia Minor, at least in the themes some 
distance from the frontier. 

84 Symbatios took refuge in this fortress when he was in revolt against Basil L 

A square on the Mese beyond the forum of Theodosios where executions sometimes took 
place: Jan in, Constantinople , 68—9. 

Anna was also the granddaughter of a Kata ky las, no doubt Leo: Theodore of Melitene, 231. 

April 934. The Magyars, now well-established in Pannonia, began serious raiding and pillaging 
mostly in the Latin west, which was less well defended. 


Romanos I Lekapenos 


agreement with them; the emperor did not stint in pouring out money 
with which to ransom the prisoners. 

30. Constantine, the remaining son of the emperor, was married to a 
maiden named Helen, member of a family in the Armeniakon theme, [229] 
the d aughter of the patrician Adrian, but she died a little later, whereupon 
Romanos married him to another, a maiden named Theophano, a mem- 
ber of the Mamas family, 

31. In the month of June, fourteenth year of the indiction, there was an 
assault on the city by a Russian fleet of ten thousand ships. The patrician 
i heophanes, the protovestiarios, sailed out against them with the fleet and 
tied up at the Hieron, while the enemy was moored off the Lighthouse 
and the adjacent shore. Waiting for the right moment [Theophanes] 
attacked in full fo rce and threw them into disorder. Many of their ves- 
sels were reduced to cinders with Greek fire while the rest were utterly 
routed. 50 The surviving Russians passed over to the eastern shore and 
turned towards the spot called Sgora. The patrician Bardas, the son of 
Phokas, was patrolling the shore with cavalry and picked men when he 
encountered a considerable body [of Russians] sent out to forage, 9 ' which 
he overcame and slew. And when Kourkouas, the domestic of the scholai, 
arrived immediately alter with the army, he found the Russians dispersed, 
wandering hither and thither; he dealt them a bitter blow. The atroci- 
ties they had committed before they were defeated exceed the horror of 
a tragedy. They crucified some of their prisoners and staked others out on 
the ground. Others they set up as targets and fired arrows at them. They 
drove sharp nails into the heads of any of the prisoners who were priests 
and burnt down not a few sacred churches.' 1 * But that was before; after 
they had been defeated at sea (as we explained, above) and no less severely 
mauled on land, they sat quietly in their own ships; and, as they were 
already running short of supplies, they decided to return to their home- 
land. But they were intimidated by the [Roman] fleet standing nearby, 
preventing them from sailing away. Seizing a chance, however, they cast 
off at a given signal and sailed off, but this did not escape the notice of the 

I h is attack which took place in 94 t was led by Oleg and Igor. 

89 Meaning the lighthouse at the northern entry into the Rosporos, 

After this first setback Igor returned directly to Kiev, abandoning the great part of his forces. 

SJC Bardas, the brother of Leo, the former rival of Romanos Lekapenos, was no longer on active 
service at this time: ! heophanes Continuatus\ but he was ca lied out to deal with this emergency 
before Kourkouas could return. 

91 They ravaged the straits (Stenon). 

9 - Tfie Russians were held in check all along the coast, by the army of Kourkouas on land and by 
Theophanes 3 fleer on the high sea. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

patrician Theophanes, the protovestiarios. Realising what was happening, 
he immediately confronted them and a second naval encounter took place. 
Again the Russians were defeated. Some of their boats went down into the 
deep, some were destroyed by fire and sword and others, along with their 
crews, fell into Roman hands. Only a few escaped the perils of war and 
reached their homeland.' 14 

32. Tire emperor gave the protovestiarios a warm welcome and rewarded 
him by promoting him to be parakoimomenos. Animosity arose among 
the other emperors against John Kourkouas, domestic of the scholai, 
because the emperor Romanos wanted to marry the domestic’s daugh- 
ter, Euphrosyne, to his own grandson, Romanos, the son of his youngest 
son, Constantine. [The emperor] was obliged to relieve the domestic of his 
command after he had exercised it for twenty-two continuous years and 
seven months, conquered practically the whole of Syria and subdued it. 
Anybody who wishes to learn of his excellent record should consult the 
work composed by one Manuel, protospatharios and judge. He wrote in 
eight books all about the brave exploits of this man. From these one will 
know what kind of a man he was in military matters. 95 And his brother 
Theophilos too, the grandfather of that John who later became emperor, 
dealt similarly with the Saracen towns in Mesopotamia when he became 
commander there, subduing and subjugating the sons of HagarT And 
the patrician Romanos, son of John the domestic when he became com- 
mander, seized many strongholds and was responsible for a great deal of 
booty accruing to the Romans. After John was relieved of his command, a 
relative of the emperor Romanos called Pantherios’ 7 was appointed domes- 
tic of the scholai. 

33. [231] To propitiate the deity for the oaths he had broken and in 
repentance of his misdeeds in breaking pacts, the emperor Romanos 

94 Led by Oleg, these refugees did not dare enter their own country; they travelled along the coast 
of the Black Sea ( Vita Basilii iunioris) before attempting a raid (together with the K bazars) on 
Bardha’a on the edge of the Caspian Sea, On the chronology of this campaign: C. Zuckerman, 
‘On the date of the Khazars’ conversion to Judaism and the chronology of the kings of the Rus 
Oleg and Igor’, REB y 53 (1995)., 264— fT 

This work (with which Skylitzes was certainly not personally acquainted) is lost. From Theophanes 
Continuaius , 426* we know that the Kourkouas family was originally from a village near Dokeia 
(Tokat) in the Armeniakon theme, that John was the grandson of a domestic ol the Hikanatoi 
also named John, and that he had been educated by one ol his relatives, Christopher, metropol- 
itan of Gangra. The same chronicler compares him with 1 raj an and Belisarios, affirming that his 
conquests reaped great taxes for the state. 

96 On the achievements of Theophilos: Theophanes Continuaius , 428; DAI , ed, Moravcsik and 
Jenkins, 208. 

97 A member of the Skleros family no doubt, one who had faithfully served Lekapenos: 
J.-C. Cheynet, ‘Notes arabo-byzantines’, Melanges Svoronos (Rethymno, 1986), 145—7* 

Romanos I Lekapenos 


undercook a number of good works which it would be a severe task to 
list. In his fear he paid the debts owed to the city by both rich and poor, 
contributing (they say) nineteen kentenaria, and he burnt the promissory 
notes at the porphyry omphalos of the Chalke [gate]. He paid the rents 
of the citizens from the greatest to the least and, as for the annual income 
which for the salvation of his soul he had settled on the monastery of the 
Myrelaion recently founded by him, it is common knowledge that it is 
paid to this day. 

34. In the first year of the indiction the Turks made another attack on 
Roman territory. Theophanes the parakoimomenos went out, concluded a 
treaty with them, received hostages and returned. 

35. In the second year of the indiction the emperor sent Paschal, prot- 
ospatharios and commander of Longobardia, to Hugh, King of Francia, 
hoping to engage his daughter to Romanos, the son of [Constantine] 
Porphyrogennetos. She was brought with great wealth and married 
Romanos; she lived with him for five years and then died. 

3 6 . There was a terrific storm in the month of December; what are called 
the Demes collapsed and broke the steps below as well as the balustrades. 

37. The city of Edessa was besieged by Roman forces, and when the 
people of Edessa were oppressed by the privations of the siege they sent 


98 C* Mango, TT)e brazen house: a study of the vestibule of the imperial palace of Constantinople 
(Copenhagen, 1959), 231; see Theophanes Coniinuatus , 429. 

This foundation of Romanos Lekapenos was constituted an imperial peculiar and endowed 
with a fortune* The arrangement obviously worked since the donations stipulated by Romanos 
were still being made in Skylitzes’ time* 1 he foundation of the Myrelaion was responsible for 
nuns, aged persons and the sick. Its officers were responsible for distributing 30,000 loaves 
of bread each day to the poor: Theophanes Coniinuatus , 430. R Magdalino, Constantinople 
medievale: etudes sur T evolution des structures urbaines (Paris, 1996), 24—5, suggests that Romanos 
may have attached the bakeries restored by the empress Eirene to the Myrelaion foundation* 
Theophanes Coniinuatus \ ed, Bekker, 403—4, reports (but Skylitzes does not) that Romanos had 
what passed for the tombs of the emperor Maurice and his family transferred from St Mamas 
to the Myrelaion* On the Myrelaion: C* L* Striker, The Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii) in Istanbul 
(Princeton, N J, 1981)* On the Bodrum Camii: W* Mii Her- Wiener, Bildlexikon zur Topographic 
Istanbuls (Tubingen, 1977), T 03 — 7. 

:oc ' In 943* 

01 In September 944 the five-year-old Bertha of Provence, illegitimate daughter of Hugh of 
Provence, king of Italy (927—47), came to the Byzantine court and took the name of Eudokia, 
which had been her gran dm other’s name and also that of the sister of Constantine VI I: DAI , 
ch. 26, ed. Moravcsik and Jenkins, III. According to Theophanes Coniinuatus , Skyltizes’ source 
here, Eudokia died young in 949* The claim that this is the couple portrayed in the famous 
ivory depicting the marriage of an emperor named Romanos with an Eudokia is still opposed by 
some scholars who think (e.g. 1 . Kalavrezou} the couple are Romanos IV Diogenes and Eudokia 
Makrembolitissa: A, Cutler and J.-M, Spieser, Byzance medievale joo—t2Q4 (Paris, 1996), 181; 
I* Kalavrezou-Maxeiner, ‘Eudokia Makrembolkissa and the Romanos ivory’, DOP \ 31 (1977), 
307—25* See (most recently) Maria Parani, ‘The Romanos Ivory and the New Tokali kilese: 
imperial costume as a tool for dating Byzantine art', Cahiers archeologiques 49 (2001) 15—28. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

a delegation to the emperor asking for the siege to he lifted [232] and 
promising to hand over the sacred mandylion of Christ as a ransom. The 
siege was lifted, and the likeness of our God was brought to the capital 
where the emperor had it ceremonially received by the parakoimomenos 
Theophanes with impressive and fitting pomp.' 

38. In those days a monstrous thing came to the imperial city from 
Armenia: a pair of Siamese twins, males sharing a single belly, hut they 
were driven out of the city as an evil portent. Then they came back in the 
[sole] reign of Constantine [VII]. When one of the twins died, some expe- 
rienced doctors tried to excise the dead portion — and they were successful, 
but the living twin survived only a short while and then died. 

39. The emperor Romanos held all monks in high honour, but this was 
especially true of the monk Sergios, nephew of the patriarch Photios, 
a man rich in virtue and adorned with every excellence. H e was always 
warning the emperor to watch out for his children and not to let them 
grow up undisciplined, lest he himself suffer the fate of Eli. 04 In the same 
year of the indiction they expelled the emperor Romanos from the palace, 
brought him to the island of Prote and tonsured him a monk. Exactly 
who put him out of office and how they did it will be related in the follow- 
ing pages. 

102 The solemn entry of the mandylion from Edessa (15 August 944) was one of Romanos 1 major tri- 
umphs. There is a contemporary account of its reception: A.-M. Du bade, LTiomelie de Gregoire 
le referenda ire pour la reception de I ’image d’Edesse^ REB, 55 (1997), 5 — 51. Another account writ- 
ten somewhat later is attributed to Constantine VII him self and may well have been produced 
in his entourage; it contains the prophecy retailed here by MSS ACE: A voice was heard in the 
air saying: "Constantinople, receive glory and joy and do you, Constantine Porphyrogennetos, 
receive your empire’: K* von Dobschiitz, ( h ris tusbilde r: Untersuchungen zur chris lichen Legende , 
Leipzig 1899, j8xx (text A) and 79 xx (text R), Text A Is the SynaxarisEs; text R was written in the 
entourage of Constantine VII, but not by him. The mandylion was deposited in the palace church 
of the Virgin at the Lighthouse (Pharos) where it still lay on the eve of the Fourth Crusade, 
1204: B. Flusin, c Dida scalie de Constantin Stilbes sur le Mandylion et la Sainte Tuile ( BHG 
REB , 55 (T997), 62-3* 

10} Grand-nephew in tact. Sergios was the brother of the magister Kosmas, first of the 
judg es: Theophanes Coniinuatus , ed. Bekker, 433. 

104 The father of undisciplin ed sons, Hoplini and Phineas: T Sam. 2:12—36; LX X 1 Kings 2 and 4. 

105 t 6 December 944. 


Constantine VII [944—959] 

1. [233] As the emperor Constantine had been left an orphan in very early 
childhood, affairs of state were conducted by Zoe his mother and the 
regents whom we listed above. Constantine the parakoimomenos exercised 
considerable infl uence over the empress while the magister Leo Phokas, 
domestic of the scholai for the east, was his brother-in-law, having mar- 
ried his sister. Thus Constantine effectively held all the reins of state and 
could direct it wherever he wished. Night and day he searched for a way of 
getting rid of [the emperor] Constantine and of transferring the imperial 
office to his own brother-in-law. When Theodore, the tutor of the porphy- 
rogennetos, realised this, he endeavoured (as we said above) to appropriate 
the elder Romanos who was then droungarios of the fleet and bring him 
into the palace in the hope that he would be the protector and defender 
of the emperor. Romanos was brought in and, little by little, gained pos- 
session of all the levers of power. Not content with the powers assigned to 
him though, he broke his oaths (and he had bound himself with the most 
awesome oaths that he would never aspire to be emperor) and proclaimed 
himself emperor. It was the porphyrogennetos who placed the diadem on 
his brow, willingly to all appearances, ‘but with a most unwilling heart’ 
to cite Homer. And it was not only himself but also Christopher, his son, 
whom Romanos proclaimed emperor, a short time after. He let some more 
time go by and then proclaimed his sons Stephen and Constantine. Now, 
alth ough he was proclaimed emperor, he did not like the ranking: it dis- 
pleased him to be in second place. So he expelled the tutor and any others 
who seemed to be opposed to him, then he proclaimed himself first em- 
peror and took over the administration of all [234] the affairs of state. His 
sons ranked after him and Constantine [VII] came last of all. By now 
Constantine had only the appearance and name of emperor, for he was 
deprived of all the privileges; therefore his constant endeavour and most 

1 Iliads 4 . 43 . 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

fervent wish was to get rid of the usurpers and assume his father's supreme 
command. He thought that this could not be brought about other than by 
setting the sons against the father. Now it so happened that Christopher 
departed this life, but there were still Stephen and Constantine. He 
decided to sound them out to see whether it would be possible to carry 
out his plan. He did not dare put Constantine [Lakapenos] to the test for 
he was of a very intractable character, so he decided to direct his entire 
intrigue and approach to Stephen, who was of a more frivolous turn of 
mind and more easily turned in the direction one desired. As his collabo- 
rator and co-worker [the porphyrogennetos] won over a very gifted man 
who was wondrously skilled in contriving deceptions and intrigues: Basil, 
surnamed Peteinos, enrolled in the corps of the Hetaireiai, a familiar 
friend of Constantine [porphyrogennetos] from his youth up. With him 
he shared his plan and through him he deceived Stephen into thinking 
he was his friend, misleading him with insidious phrases which confused 
his thinking by duplicity and artifice. Peteinos left no stone unturned to 
make Stephen like him and, when he had succeeded, he hung around 
him, filling his ears with speeches and advice which massaged his vanity 
and shortly almost drove him out of his mind. ‘O emperor,’ he would say, 
‘why do you who are in the vigour of youth, distinguished by the fervour 
of your soul and the power of your intellect, why do you only observe and 
not react to the fact that affairs of state are hanging by a thin, antiquated 
thread near breaking point?’ — by which he meant Stephen’s father. ‘Why 
do you not rise up against him, get rid of him as an obstacle to your own 
noble aspirations and take the administration into your own hands, you 
who are capable of governing not only the Roman empire, but [235] many 
others too? Come now, accept my beneficial advice; rise up and take con- 
trol of affairs of state; contrive to put Roman fortunes back on an upward 
course and to abase th o sc of the enemies. Demonstrate by actual deeds 
that it was not in vain or for nothing that your youth and the other spir- 
itual advantages were given to you by God. You will have your brother-in- 
law, the porphyrogennetos, to fight with you and aid you in this under tak 
ing, he who ardently prays and beseeches God to be rid of the heavy 
burden of your father and to see the Empire governed by you.’ Stephen 
was taken in by these words and won over by a longing to rule. He fell prey 
to a burning desire to depose his father from the throne. Just as he was 

1 Th e sons of R omanos had. good reason to he apprehensive about their father’s intentions. After 
the death ot Christopher, Constantine VII alone (st m without a beard) appears at the side of 
their father on the gold coins, Romanos showed remorse towards the end of his life, or at least he 
became concerned about the salvation of h is soul. Moreover, in 944 he provided a wife, Bertha- 

Constantine VII (solus) 

22 7 

about to execute his design, he breathed some cryptic remarks about what 
he intended to his brother, but that one was inflexible from the very first 
word and warn ed h im not to have any confidence in their brother-in-law, 
urging him to remain faithful and loyal to their own family. So Stephen 
aba n do ned Constantine [Lekapenos] as likely to be an obstacle rather than 
an advantage and decided to go ahead insofar as it was possible to do so 
with his project. Besides the aforementioned Basil [Peteinos] he took as his 
associates the monk Marianos, son of Leo Argyros, greatly honoured and 
trusted by the emperor Romanos, and some others. 4 When the time was 
ripe, he overthrew his own father on the sixteenth of December, third year 
of the indiction, am 6453, in the twenty-sixth year of his reign, and exiled 
him to the island of Prote where he was tonsured an unwilling monk. 

2. Immediately after the overthrow of Romanos, Stephen energetically 
took matters of state in hand, 6 with his brother-in-law and his brother 
as colleagues. But as they were not always of like mind and sometimes 
actively disagreed, from this beginning the shoots of discord sprang forth; 
they regarded each other askance and with suspicion, Stephen the por- 
phyrogennetos [236] and vice versa, and there arose among them reckless 
and boundless quarrels. Stephen made extraordinary efforts to rid himself 
of his brother and brother-in-law in order to be left in sole charge of the 
administration but, as the poet says, ‘there are things hotter than fire*; 7 
he failed to notice that he was the prey rather than the huntsman. Once 
Constantine [porphyrogennetos] realised that he was under attack, he did 
not hesitate to set his plan in motion and his wife, Helen, strongly encour- 
aged him to depose the brothers. He revealed the secret [plan] to Basil 

Eudokia, tor his grandson, the future Romanos II, who was still very young. Hence his sons were 
suspecting that he intended to restore the reins of government to his son-in-law, Constantine VII, 
the only one who had a legitimate title to rule as emperor, 

5 Marianos, still a monk, was the son of Leo Argyros, the domestic of the scholai defeated by the 
Bulg ars; hence he was the brother o fRo manos, the husband of Agatha Lekapena: (most recently) 
Cheynet, Societe, 530—1, for the articles of J.-F. Vannier mentioned above. 

4 In reporting the plot of Stephen, Ttieophanes Continuatus , 435, names Manuel Kourtikios as one 
of the conspirators. Elsewhere, 438, he makes the point that many of the conspirators who were in 
favour of Constantine VII met a miserable end. It is revealed that a strategos named Diogenes, a 
Kladon and a Philip took part in the plot against Romanos. A similar misfortune befell the friends 
of the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, Basil I, in their case for being guilty of the assassi- 
nation of Michael III* 

5 16 December 944. 

f Theophanes Continuatus > 436, tells a different tale, saying that Constantine VII took the helm and 
surroun ded h im self with men he could trust: Bardas Phokas (made m agister and domestic of the 
scholai); Constantine Gongyles (commander of the fi eet); Basil Peteinos (patrician and grand het- 
aireiarch); Marianos Argyros (count of the stable); and Manuel Kourtikios (patrician and droung- 
arios of the watch). Skylitzes notes these appointments elsewhere. 

Aristophanes, Equitcs , 382. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Peteinos and, by his agency, rallied to the cause Marianos, Nikephoros and 
Leo the sons of Bardas Phokas, Nicholas and Leo Tornikios and not a few 
others. 8 9 Stephen and Constantine [Lekapenoi] suspected nothing and were 
in fact arrested while they were at table, dining with [Constantine porphy- 
rogennetos] and removed from the palace; this on 27 January, the same 
third year of the indiction. 10 * * * They were put aboard ship and exiled, one of 
them to the island of Panormos, Constantine to Terebinthos. They were 
both tonsured clerics by Basil of Caesarea and Anastasios of Herakleia, 
then, a little later, the emperor moved Stephen to the Prokonnesos and 
then to Rhodes and finally to Mytilene, Constantine to Samothrace. 14 * * 
Stephen bore the misfortunes which befell him with good courage and 
survived nineteen years on Lesbos. But Constantine was of a less placid 
disposition and resisted with greater fervour than was called for. He often 
attempted to escape and the second year after his fall from power he slew 
his gaoler, then was himself killed by the other gaolers. [237] And in July, 
the sixth year of the indiction, Romanos their father paid the universal 
debt and was buried at the Myrelaion. 

3. Once he had purged his circle of suspicious elements, now girded 
with exclusive imperial authority, at Easter of the same year of the indic- 
tion 17 Constantine placed the diadem on the brow of his son, Romanos, 
while the patriarch Theophylact offered prayers. It had been expected that 
he would be a capable and energetic ruler, one who would devote himself 

8 They were ihe sons of the Armenian prince of Taron, Tornik, son of Apoganem, After a dispute 
w ith h is cousin, Bagarat, Tornik bequeathed his country to the empire* Romanos Lekapenos 
brought his family to Constantinople, including the sons (or grandsons?) Leo and Nicholas: DAI , 
ed, Moravcsik and Jenkins, 194-6. On the Tornikioi: N. Adontz, Tes Taronites en Armen ie et a 
Byzance\ f>, 11 (1936), 21-42, 

Liutprand of Cremona claims that the Amalfitan colony at Constantinople gave its support to 
Constantine VII: Opera Liutprandi Cremonensi$ 9 ed. P. Chiesa (Turnholt, 1998); Antapodosis , 








27 January 945, ]1 One of the Prink ipo islands, better known as Antigone. 

Another ot the Prinkipo islands, the one on which the patriarch Ignatios built a monastery. 

Th is bishop was quite close to Constantine VII, to whom he dedicated his Commentary on the 
Orations of Gregory of Nazianzos, 

Islands were frequently used as places of confinement because the Roman navy controlled all 
shipping movements. 

The protospatharios Niketas: Theophanes Continuatus , 438. 

T5 June 948: P* Grierson, 1 Ihe tombs and obits of the Byzantine emperors (337—1042) with an 
additional note by C, Mango and h Sevcenko 3 , OOP, 16 (1962), 29. According to Theophanes 
Continuatus , 439—40, Romanos had a dream in which he saw his son Constantine having his 
throat cut and Anastasios, metropolitan ofH erakleia, conducted by two bodyguards; Anastasios 
was thrown into the fire — th Is on the very day they both died. Romanos also sent money to 
many monks asking them to pray for the forgiveness of bis defects* He particularly singled out 
Dermokaices, a monk of Bithynian Olympos. 

The dating is defective since Skylitzes omits to say which year of the indiction he means. It could 
be the third (April 945) or the fourth (946), C* Zuckerman has recently argued for Easter 946: f Le 
voyage d'Olga et la premiere ambassade espagnole a Constantinople en 946*, TM> r 3 (2000), 

Constantine VII (solus) 


to state affairs with diligence once he became sole ruler. In the event he 
proved to be weaker than anticipated and achieved nothing that mea- 
sured up to the expectations one had of him. He was addicted to wine 
and always preferred to take the easier way. He was implacable towards 
defaults and merciless in inflicting punishment. He was indifferent to 
the promotion of officials, unwilling to appoint or promote according to 
birth or merit' 8 (which is the function of a truly admirable government). 
He entrusted a command — military or civil — indiscriminately to whom- 
soever happened to be on hand. Thus it invariably happened that some 
base and suspicious character would be appointed to the highest of civil 
offices. Helena his wife was much engaged in this with him and so was 
Basil the parakoimomenosf they were responsible for the buying and 
selling of offices. 

Yet Constantine was not totally devoid of good works, and the praise- 
worthy and wondrous qualities about to be related are enough to eclipse 
and obfuscate many of his shortcomings. On his own initiative he brought 
about a restoration of the sciences of arithmetic, music, astronomy, geom- 
etry in two and three dimensions and, superior to them all, philosophy, 
all sciences which had for a long time been neglected on account of a lack 
of care and learning in those [238] who held the reins of government. He 
sought out the most excellent and proven scholars in each discipline and, 
when he found them, appointed them teachers, approvi ng of and applaud- 
ing those who studied diligently. Hence he put ignorance and vulgarity to 
flight in short order and aligned the state on a more intellectual course, 1 
He also concerned himself with practical arts and handicrafts and brought 


647—72, at 669* It is, however, surprising that Constantine did not cho ose to crown his son at the 
first celebration of Easter after he became sole emperor* 

An implied criticism of the choices of Bardas Phokas as domestic of the scholal (echoed even 
by Bardas’ own son, Nikephoros) and of Constantine Gongylios as commander of the naval 
forces, the man who, in that office, would he responsible for the failure of the expedition to Crete 
in 949* 

19 A source hostile to Constantine VII is being followed here* In fact, this emperor had some 
quite remarkable civil servants: the quaestor Theophilos who had been eparch under Romanos 
Lekapenos, drafted certain novels, including the novel ol 947 against the encroachments of mag- 
nates on the lands of the poor, translated in E. Me Geer, The land legislation of the Macedonian 
emperors (lor on to, 2000 ), 65—7. There was also the judge and m agister Kosmas and, last hut 
not least, Constantine the mystikos and professor of philosophy who became eparch, the most 
learned man in the Senate according to Theophanes Continuatus , 444. 

The illegitimate son of Romanos Lekapenos, born c , 925 by a £ Scyth* slave. He was castrated in 
infancy, which qualified him for the position of parakoimomenos. He supported Constantine 
VII in 945 and from then until 985 played a principal role in Byzantine political life, in addition 
to acquiring phenomenal wealth: W. G* Brokkaar, Basil Lecapenus 5 , Studia bizantina et neoeT 
lent ca Nee rlandica , 3 (1972), 199—234* 

11 For a commentary on this passage: Lemerle, Premier bumanisme y 264—6. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

about great progress in them. In addition to this he was pious and reverent 
in his approach to God, never appearing empty-handed before Him in the 
processions which tradition required to be made to the various churches, 
but offering splendid sacrificial gifts, such as befit an emperor who is the 
friend of C hrist. He rewarded those who had worked with him to over- 
turn his stepbrothers with the following benefits: Bardas Phokas was 
made magister and domestic of the scholai for the east; of his two sons, 
Nikephoros and Leo, the first was made commander of the Anatolikon 
theme, the other of Cappadocia, while Constantine the other son received 
the command of Seleucia. Basil Peteinos was made commander of the 
Great Hetaireiai, Marianos Argyros became count of the stable, Manuel 
Kourtikios droungarios of the watch. Romanos the son of Stephen (who 
later became sebastophoros) the emperor castrated; likewise Basil who was 
born to Romanos the Elder by a slave woman. He tonsured as a cleric 
Michael, the son of the emperor Christopher. 14 

4. [The emperor] now thought he had secured the empire with links 
of iron and had shaken off all resentment. Yet, while he believed he 
was securely installed, he came within a hair s breadth of falling prey 
to two major offensives which nearly cost him his life. Theophanes the 
parakoimomenos 15 sought to bring Romanos the Elder back into the 
palace from the island of Prote and there were not a few others [239] 
who shared his purpose. Then there were others (Leo Kladon, Gregory 
of Macedonia, Theodosios, Stephen’s head groom and John the Rector) 
who aimed at bringing Stephen from Mytilene and installing him as 
emperor, but some of the conspirators let it be known what they were up 
to.* 6 Th eophanes and his collaborators were exiled; Stephen’s protagonists 




Thus the emperor gave control of the army to the Phokas family. Bardas Phokas (who had. d i s - 
charged the office of commander with a measure of success according to the De Velitationei Traite , 
ed* Dagron and Mihaescu, 35, received a check to his career with the advent of Lekapenos — who 
came to power by distancing Bardas 1 brother, Leo, from it. Bardas was married to a member of 
the Male in os family whose brother Michael was revered as one of the Byzantine saints. I hey had 
th ree sons of whom one, Nikephoros, named after his paternal grandfather (in accordance with 
an aristocratic tradition), became emperor in 963. 

1 his information is incompatible with what was said earlier: that Basil was a eunuch from infancy 
This would also have been a very o dd way of rewa rd ing such a strong supporter. 

Constantine had him deprived of the purple buskins which he wore as the elder son of 
Christopher, the heir apparent who died in 931* He was compensated by being promoted magister 
and rector: Theophanes Continuatus y 438. 

One would have th ought that Romanos’ chief minister would have lost (or have been about to 
lose) his influence on the course of events. 

Tli is second conspiracy was denounced by a man named Michael Diabolinos: Leo the 
Grammarian, 309. 

Constantine VII (solus) 231 

received a beating, lost their property to the state, had their noses slit 
and were sent into exile. 

5. The Turks did not discontinue their raiding and ravaging of Roman 
land until their chieftain, Boulosoudes, came to the city of Constantine 
under pretence of embracing the Christian faith. He was baptised and 
received [from the font] by the emperor Constantine who honoured him 
with the title of patrician and put him in possession of great riches; then 
he went back to his homeland. 17 Not long afterwards, Gylas li! who was 
also a chieftain of the Turks came to the capital where he too was baptised 
and where he too was accorded the same honours and benefits. He took 
back with him a monk with a reputation for piety named Hierotheos who 
had b een ordained bishop of Turkey by Theophylact. When he got there, 
he converted many from the barbaric fallacy to Christianity. 29 And Gylas 
remained faithful to Christianity; he made no inroad against the Romans 
nor did he leave Christian prisoners untended. He ransomed them, took 
care of their needs and set them free. Boulosoudes, on the other hand, 
violated his contract with God and often invaded Roman land with all his 
people. He attempted to do likewise against the Franks but he was seized 
and impaled by Otto their emperor. 1 ' 

6. [240] The wife of the Russian chieftain who had once sailed against 
Roman territory, Olga by name, came to Constantinople after her hus- 
band died. She was baptised and she demonstrated fervent devotion. She 
was honoured in a way commensurate with her devotion, then she went 
back home. 1 ' 

1 7 


On the Turks/Magyars, see DAI, ed, Moravcsik and Jenkins, c. 40, where it is confirmed that 
Boultzous (Bulscu), who stood third in rank with these people with the title of Karhas, did go to 

The Romans knew that Gylas was a title and not a name (DAf 178). A peace treaty was cone luded 
in 948 and the baptism of the chieftains took place shortly afterwards: P. Stephenson, Balkan 
frontier: a political study of the northern Balkans , 900-1204 (Cambridge, 2000), 40, 

Hierotheos left in 953 but the bishopric of Tu rkey remained in existence, for a seal confirms its 
existence in the eleventh century: DOSeals 1, 36*1* In the twelfth century its centre was moved to 

50 In 955 Otto dealt the Magyars a decisive blow at the battle of Lechfeld, which had two conse- 
quences: Otto restored the empire in the west and the Magyars settled in the territory which 
won id b ecome Hungary* Thanks to Latin missionaries this eventually became a Ch ristian king- 
dom, but the Greek church must have maintained its institutions for three bishoprics are men- 
tioned in a source dared 1020, 

31 There has been a great deal of discussion of the v isit of Olga, wife of Igor and mother of Sviatoslav, 
concerning both the date (946 or 957) and the object of the visit. A Christian community was 
already in existence at Kiev. Olga received baptism having made a personal decision to do so, 
then she returned home accompanied by some Greek priests, but her conversion provoked no 
sympathetic movement towards Christianity among the Russian aristocracy: (most recently) Q* 
Kresten, ' Staatsempf anger im Kaiser pa last von Konstantinopel um die Mitte des 10 , fahrhunderts. 
Beobachtungen zu Kapitel II ry des sogennanie ‘Zeremonienbuches' (Vienna, 2000), opining that 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

7. When the fiancee of Romanos, the daughter ol Hugh [king of the 
Franks], died still a virgin (as we said), his father the emperor engaged him 
to another woman, not the scion of a distinguished family, but one born 
of h 11 mble folk who se trade was innkeeping. Her name was Anastaso but 
[the emperor] changed it to ih eophanov 2 

8. While the emir of Tarsus was campaigning against the Romans he 
sent a foraging party to the village of Herakleos. A priest named Themel 
was offering the unbloody sacrifice 5 when he learnt that the Saracens were 
approaching. He interrupted his liturgy and went out in the vestments he 
was wearing, seized the church’s semantron 54 in his hands and repelled 
the attackers with it. He wounded many, killed a few and put the rest to 
flight. But he was inhibited from his ministry by the bishop who could 
not be persuaded to forgive him. So he went over to the Hagarenes and 
renounced Christianity. He joined forces with them, and not only ravaged 
Cappadocia and the adjacent themes but penetrated as far as what is called 
Asia Minor. It would be unpardonable to set down in writing the atrocities 
he committed. 

9. After Bard as Phokas was appointed domestic of the scholai (as we 
said) [241] he did nothing worthy of record. Whenever he served under 
another, he showed himself to be a fine commander; but once authority 
over the entire land forces depended on his own judgement, he brought 
little or no benefit to the Roman realm. He was consumed by greed as if 
it were an illness which dulled his mind. Tt even happened that he once 
unexpectedly encountered the forces of ChambdanF 5 everybody deserted 
him (they say), and he would have been taken prisoner if his servants had 
not rallied round him and delivered him from captivity. He received a 


there were two visits of Olga to Constantinople but that Olga was baptised in 946. Zuckerman, 
'Olga', 660— 9, argues on the basis of a study of the structure of Constantines Porphyrogenitus, 
De caerim, ed. Reiske, 11, 15, that Olga only came once to Constantinople, 946—7, the object of 
the visit being to discuss the commercial relations of Byzantium with the Russians laid out in the 
treaty of 944* She remain ed several tnonrbs in the Christian metropolis and It was in the course of 
this, her one and only visit there, that she received baptism. See also M, Feat her stone, 'Olga's visit 
to Constantinople in the De Cerimonii$\ REB, 61 (2003), 241—51, arguing (as others have done) 
that the baptism took place in 957, 

'lb ere are two contradictory traditions concerning the origin of Theophano. According to one 
tradition (' Theophanes Continuatus* 458) she was the daughter of Krateros while the other* fol- 
lowed by Skylitzes and by Leo the Deacon, asserts that she was ol lowly origins and no better than 
she ought to be* But such a marriage wou id have been quite contrary to normal procedure; for 
only the daughters of 'good* families could participate in the ‘beauty contests 3 by which so many 
brides were selected for princes in former centuries, ih e name of K rater os moreover inspires con- 
fidence; it denotes a family which had links with the Macedonian house. See Leo VI, e. 6, above. 
He was celebrating the sacred liturgy of the holy eucharist. 

A large piece of wood or iron struck repeatedly to announce the commencement of services. 

Sayf ad-Daula was the son o f Ha mdam 

Constantine VII (solus) 


serious and deep wou nd on the forehead and bore the scar of it to his 
dying day. 5 ” His sons, Nikephoros and Leo, were well above taking any 
ill-gotten gain. 37 They treated those under their command as favoured 
sons and greatly benefited the Roman realm. We will speak of the distin- 
guished accomplishments of Nikephoros in the section devoted to him, 
in order not to interrupt the continuous flow of the history. As tor Leo, he 
routed Apolasaeir, a distinguished man related to Chambdan, who was 
campaigning against the Romans with an innumerable host, arrested him 
and sent him to Constantinople. One part of his army he had already 
eliminated in battle; the other part he now took into captivity. When 
[Apolasaeir] arrived at the capital the emperor Constantine exhibited him 
in a triumph, placing his foot on the mans neck, but then demonstrated 
his benevolence by bestowing honours and gifts on him. Chambdan took 
prisoner Constantine, the remaining son of Phokas, and carried him off 
to Aleppo where he made every effort to convert him to their miserable 
religion but, failing in his efforts, murdered him by poisoning. 39 Bardas 
was deeply pained on hearing of this and put all the prisoners he held 
who were relations of Chambdan to the sword. This is why the magis- 
ter Paul Monomachos (who had been sent to conclude a treaty) returned 
empty-handed. 40 Prey to unassuageable grief at the loss of his relatives, 
Chambdan set off on campaign [242] against the Romans. With him he 
took the patrician Niketas Chalkoutzes 4 ' (whom the emperor had des- 
patched as ambassador for peace negotiations) and took prisoner many 
a good man from among the bravest and most noble of the Romans. But 
Niketas secretly let Phokas know all Chambdan s plans and by which route 
he intended to effect his retreat, so Phokas was able to set up an ambush 
at a place to which there was only a narrow and steep entry between cliffs. 
Once Chambdan was there and had advanced well into the narrow pas- 
sage, he was surrounded by the forces lying in ambush. Men posted for 

* Th is is a reference to a battle near Via rash in 953 where, in spite of superior strength of numbers, 
Bardas was defeated and wounded by Sayd-ad-Doula, Constantine his son being taken pris- 
oner: Vasiliev and Canard, Byzance et les Arabes, ii.i, 350—1, 

* The supposed virtue ofL eo is given the 1 ie by Skylitzes himself (below) in de scribing his specula- 
tion in grain when his brother w r as on the th rone. 

^ Leo fought Abul Asalr, cousin of Sayf-as-Doula, near Duluk in 956: Vasiliev and Canard tli, 

- In fact Constantine was well cared for; he died of an illness and was buried by the Christians of 
Aleppo: Vasiliev and Canard, ti.i, 351. 

40 1 he setback of the embassy of Monomachos in 954 probably had nothing to do with the death of 
Constantine Phokas. 

41 This is the first appearance of the name of a very important family which supplied the state with 
many civil servants and military officers: A. Savvides, Ta famille by za urine Chalkoutzes' (in 
Greek), A rcheion Euboikon Meleton y 2 8 (1988-9), 63—73. 

234 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

this purpose rose up from their concealed positions, rolling great stones 
down on them and shooting all kinds of missiles at them. Chalkoutzes 
was prepared for the event; he had corrupted some of the Saracens with 
gifts to facilitate his flight and got away unnoticed with his entire entou- 
rage. An innume rable multitude of the Hagarenes fell. As for Ch ambdan, 
after slaying all the prisoners he was holding, he and a tew others managed 
to make an inglorious and disorderly escape from danger. 4i 

io. In the twelfth year of the reign of Constantine, am 6464, 27 February, 
fourteenth year of the in diction, the patriarch Theophylact departed this 
life 13 after an episcopate of twenty-three years and twenty-five days. He was 
sixteen years old when he took control — uncanonically — of the church. 
[243] He fulfilled his episcopal rule under tutors for a while, thank good- 
ness, and wo uld to God it had always been so. For in those days he gave the 
impression that he was capable of behaving with dignity and the necessary 
restraint; but as he approached the age of maturity and was allowed to lead 
his own life, there was nothing disgraceful or even frankly forbidden to 
which he was stranger. He put ecclesiastical advancement and elevation to 
the episcopate up for sale and did other things which a true bishop would 
certainly have eschewed. He had a mania for horses and went out hunting 
much of his time. He also indulged in other unseemly activities which it 
would be both tedious and improper to set out in detail. But there is one 
which it would be right to mention as an indication ot how crude he was. 
He had this absolute passion for acquiring horses (he is said to have pro- 
cured more th an two thousand of them) and their care was his constant 
concern. He was not satisfied with feeding them hay and oats but would 
serve them pine-seeds, almonds and pistachios or even dates and figs and 
choicest raisins, mixed with the most fragrant wine. To this he would 
add saff ron, cinnamon, balsam and other spices and serve it to each of his 
horses as food. It is said of him that once when he was celebrating the great 
supper of God on the Thursday of Holy Week and was already reading the 
prayer of consecration, the deacon charged with the task of caring for the 
horses appeared and gave him the glad tidings that his favourite mare — he 
mentioned its name - had just foaled. [ 1 heophylact] was so delighted that 
he got through the rest of the liturgy as quickly as possible and came run- 
ning to Kosmidion where he saw the newly born foal, took his fill of the 

Skylitzes ignores the chronological sequence of the successes of the sons of Bardas* It was in 
October 950 that Leo inflicted this crushing defeat on the emir in one o f the passes oft he Ta tirus, 
Sayf-ad-Doula slaughtered lour hundred Christian prisoners* Niketas Chalkoutzes succeeded in 
escaping with his attendants by bribing those who were guarding them* 

27 February 95 


Constantine VII (solus) 


sight of the animal and then returned to the Great Church, there to com- 
plete the singing of the hymn on the sacred sufferings of the saviour. It was 
he who instigated the present custom of insulting God and the memory 
of the saints on greater festivals by performing the early morning service 
with indecent howling, bursts of laughter and wild cries, whereas it should 
be offered to God with compunction and a contrite heart, for our own 
salvation. He gathered a band of disreputable men, set over them a fellow 
named Euthymios Kasnes (whom he promoted domestic of the church) 
and taught them satanic dances, [244] scandalous cries and songs gathered 
at crossroads and in brothels. Such was the life he led, and he lost his life 
by reckless riding; thrown from his horse at a section of the sea wall, he 
began to haemorrhage from the mouth. He sickened for two years and 
then died, a victim of dropsy. 

11. On 3 April, the same year of the indiction, the monk Polyeuktos was 
ordained patriarch in his stead, a man born and raised in Constantinople, 14 
castrated by his parents, a monk of many years’ exemplary experience. 
Ike emperor made him patriarch on account of his exceptional wisdom, 
the austerity of his way of life and his indifference to worldly possessions. 
His ordination, however, was not performed by [the metropolitan] of 
Herakleia as was the custom, but by Basil of Caesarea for Nikephoros, 
bishop of Herakleia, had offended the emperor in some way and was not 
permitted to perform the ordination. From this, unusually severe blame 
was laid not only on him who had authorised and on him who had per- 
formed the ordination, but also on the one who was ordained for receiving 
an irregular ordination. He was nevertheless ordained and began speak- 
ing the truth boldly, condemning the greed of the relatives of Romanos 
the Elder, 45 and when the emperor came to the Great Church on Holy 
Saturday 46 he urged the emperor to rectify his misdeeds, to which he 
reluctantly agreed. Basil who later became parakoimomenos, born of a 
slave-woman to Romanos the Elder, now came to the support of his [step-] 
sister Helena, the Sovereign Lady. He so worked upon Constantine that he 
not only came to regret the patriarch’s appointment, but also encouraged 
Basil to search out a pretext for expelling him from the throne; in this he 
had the strong encouragement of Iheodore of Kyzikos. 

44 QDB) hi , 1696* 

In 956 the patriarch could only have been referring to Helena, the wife of Constantine VII, and 
her half-brother Basil w r ho — as Skylitzes alleges above — were encouraging the porphyrogennetos 
to confer the highest positions in the state on those who offered most for them: Brokkaar, 'Basil 
Lacapenus\ 214. 

46 blaster eve. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

staying there at that time, and to take counsel with him concerning the 
deposition of Polyeuktos. While he was there, on account either of some 
physical defect or of being poisoned by his son again, he fell ill and had 
to return to the capital which he reached towards the end of October rid- 
ing in a litter. On 9 November he died leaving his intention [to depose 
Polyeuktos] unaccomplished. He had lived a life of fifty-four years and 
two months; 54 he had co-reigned with his father, his uncle Alexander and 
his mother thirteen years then with Romanos the intruder twenty-six 
[years]. Subsequently, after [Romanos] fell from power, he had ruled alone 
tor fifteen years.” When he died he was buried with his own father. To his 
last breath he was maliciously disposed toward Polyeuktos and making 
plans to depose him. 

18. Some days before his death an d fo r some considerable time, as even- 
ing drew on, stones thrown from above would fall in the place where he 
was staying with great violence and a very loud crash. He thought they 
were coming from the upper stories of the Magnaura and ordered guards 
to be posted there for many nights in the hope of catching whoever dared 
to do such a thing. But he failed to realise that this was a wasted effort; the 

happening was not the work of men but of a higher power. 

' ■ This is correct; Theophanes Continuatus, 468, gives hity-hvc years and two months. 

« MSS C and E (the latter in the margin) add: 'Not fifteen years but fourteen, ten months, twenty- 
four days. For he came to power on 1 6 December, the third year of the indiction, AM 6453 and be 
died on 9 November, the thirteenth year of the indiction, am 6468/ There are other sources which 
say he died on 19 November: Grierson, 'Tombs*, 58* 


Romanos II the Younger [959—963] 

1. [248] After Constantine [VII] had departed this life and passed on to 
the hereafter, Romanos his son came to power. He appointed officials 
who were fervently loyal to him and, once he had assured his hold on 
the empire as securely as possible, he crowned his son Basil at the feast of 
Easter, still in the third year of the indiction, by the hands of the patriarch 
Polyeuktos, at the Great Church. 

2 . The following year another son was born [to Romanos], this one in 
the palace at Pege, whom he called Constantine after his father. 

3. [Romanos] was young and devoted to pleasure; he abandoned the 
supervision of every matter to Jose ph Bring as,’ the praepositos and para- 
koimomenos, for he himself would have nothing to do with anything but 
the pursuit of ribald behaviour in the company of silly young men who 
frequented prostitutes, wantons, actors a nd comedians. There was a cleric, 
a eunuch who, warned by the emperor Constantine about his disorderly 
beh aviour, had adopted the monastic habit and kept himself out of sight 

: 22 April 960* It is not certain when Basil was born* Pscllos {Ch rono graph m , 1:24) says that Basil 
died in his seventy- second year, which would mean he was born in 954. This is unlikely for several 
reasons* Romanos II (born in 939) would have been a very young father; also this would imply that 
Basil was considerably older than his brother, whereas the sources all agree that he was only three 
years older than Constantine* TJ)eophanes Continuatus y 469, and Pseudo-Symeon the Logothete , 775 
and 757, say that Basil was one year old w henh is grandfather died, which would mean he was born 
in 958, and this is probably correct. According to Yahya of Antioch, 1, 480, Basil was sixty-eight 
when he died on 12 December 1025, meaning that he was born in 957* For the most recent word 
on this matter: M* Feather stone, Elga’s visit to Constantinople in De Cerimoniis\ REB y 61 (2003), 
25°— r, 

: A, Markopoulos, *J oseph Rringas: problemes prosopographiques et question ideologiques > (in 
Greek), Symmeikta y 4 (1981), 87—115, trs* History and literature oj Byzantium in the ninth-tenth 
centuries (Aldershot, 2004), no* rv. Constantine VII had made this eunu ch his confidant and 
awarded him the title of patrician* He was successively praepositos, sa kella rios, droungarios of the 
fleet and finally parakoimomenos* As he lay dying the emperor made him swear to assist Romanos 
in governing: Theophanes Continuatus y 4 66. Joseph made a series of appointments at the accession 
ol Romanos II: John Choirinas became great hetaireiarch, Sisinnios eparch oi the City, subse- 
quently logothete ot the gen ikon when Theodore Daph nopates replaced him as eparch* 


240 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

until the emperor s death. But as soon as Romanos came to power, he made 
him throw off the monastic habit and put on the garb of a secular cleric, 
associating himself with the attendants of the imperial bedchamber. 5 Now 
Polyeuktos, full of zeal, importuned and besought the emperor at great 
length to discharge this man [249] from his service for having renounced 
the monastic profession. The emperor refused, claiming that [John] had 
never really taken the monastic habit or had the office [of clothing] said 
over him by any one of the priests; he had feigned the monastic way of life 
for fear of the emperor and, taken in by this, Polyeuktos let the matter 
drop — Joseph also having worked hard to attain that result. [As for John], 
he lived a secular, disorderly life until the death of Romanos, after which 
he again assumed the monastic habit. But he did not change his state of 

4. In this year [Romanos] sent the m agister Nikephoros Phokas (who 
had already been promoted domestic of the scholai for the East by the 
emperor Constantine and had achieved many victories against the Saracens 
of the East, completely subduing Karamnes, emir of Tarsus, Chambdan, 
emir of Aleppo and Izeth, emir of Tripoli) against the Saracens of Crete, 
providing him with an army of picked soldiers and a well-equipped fleet. 4 
[Nikephoros Phokas] made the passage to the island and immediately on 
disembarkation became embroiled with the Hagarenes who were there 
and offering him resistance. These he put to flight and safely disembarked 
both h imself and his army. Then he set up a strong palisade surrounded 
by a deep ditch fortified with stakes and staves. He moored the fleet in a 
calm harbour and, when all was in order, set about laying vigorous siege 
to the cities of the island. For seven months in all he employed every 
kind of siege-engine; he threw down the wa 11s of the cities and occupied 
the strongholds. On 7 March, fourth year of the indiction, he ravaged 
the strongest city of all (known locally as Chandax) and took prisoner the 
em ir of the island, Kouroupes 5 by name, [250] together with Anemas, the 

The man is otherwise unknow n; he may well have been appointed epi tou koitonos (koitonites). 
Nikephoros Phokas, now domestic of the scholai for the West, sailed from the port of Phygcla to 
the south of Ephesos in the spring of 960 and arrived in Crete on 13 July. This expedition, which 
numbered 230 vessels, was bigger than the previous ones. It was being prepared during the last 
years of Constantine VII* probably at the instigation of Basil Lekapenos, the parakoimomenos: D, 
Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete: from the fifth century to the Venetian conquest (Athens, 1988), 58—63, 
Th e name o f the emir was Abd ah Aziz ihn Shuayb et-Qurrubi. Kouroupes may come from the 
nisha of the emir. 

This man entered the service of the empire and provided it with a long line of generals reaching 
into the twelfth century: e*g, B* Skoulatos, Les Personnages byzantins de VAlexiade (Louvain, 1980), 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Hippodrome] the day when there was horse racing, to put Basil on the 
imperial throne [251] and proclaim him emperor. But the plot was betrayed 
to the emperor by one of the conspirators named Ioannikios, a Saracen 
by birth. Before the appointed day arrived, they were arrested by Joseph, 
condemned and ruthlessly tortured (with the sole exception of Basil). On 
the day of the horse races they were paraded for public derision, sent into 
exile and tonsured as monks. When they had suffered this humiliation 
for a short time, they were recalled by Romanos, now charitably dispos ed 
towards them. The exception was Basil Peteinos who had gone out of his 
mind and died in the Proconnesos: justice had overtaken him for the 
deceit he had practised on the emperor Stephen when he betrayed him to 

6 . Romanos Saronites 1 * 1 was the brother-in-law of Romanos the Elder 1 ' 
by marriage to his sister. When he saw what had befallen Basil Peteinos 
and the others, he was frightened that the same fate might befall him, 
for his elevated status attracted envy and suspicion. So he divided his for- 
tune among his children as he pleased, distributed the rest to the poor, 
assumed the monastic habit and entered the ElegmoH monastery. He 
remained there for many years and was held in high honour by subsequent 

7. In those days a man appeared whose name was Philoraios, a body- 
guard to the magister Romanos Moseles and a grandson of Romanos 
the Elder/ 7 He could ride around the track of the Hippodrome standing 
upright on the saddle of a racehorse running at full speed, bearing in his 
hands a sword which he would turn like a windmill without in the least 
declining from his upright position. 

8. In th ose days the cattle disease was raging which had plagued the 
Roman empire for some time, a disease known as krahra that wastes and 
destroys bovines. [252] They say that it originated in the days of Romanos 
the Elder. It is said that when he was constructing a palace in which to 

11 The Saronitai (not to be confused with the Taronkai) belonged to the highest aristocracy. A lawsuit 
challenging the legitimacy of the marriage between Theophylact, son of the patrician Romanos 
Saronites, and lheophano> daughter of the protospathaHos John Parsakoudenos* reveals some- 
thing ol the marriage alliances contracted by this illustrious family: with the Taronitai, twice 
with the Lekapenoi, and with the Radenoi: A. Schminck, L Vier eherechtliche Enscheidungen aus 
dem it. Jahrhondert*, Fontes Minores y 3 (1979), 240—51. 

15 Hence Romanos was the uncle of Romanos II; his wife’s name is not known. 

16 The Bithynian monastery of Elegmoi (or Elaiobomoi) was sufficiently illustrious in 787 for its 
hegoumenos to sign the acts of the council held in that year: Janin, Grands centres , n ? 142-8. 

* Th us Moseles was first cousin to Romanos II and nephew to Romanos Saronites. This relation- 
ship explains why both enjoyed the elevated title of magister. 


Romanos II the Younger 

gain relief from the summer heat close to the cistern of Bonos/ 8 the head 
of a marble ox was found while the foundations were being dug. Those 
who found it smashed it up and threw it into the lime kiln; and from that 
time until this there was no interruption in the destruction of the bovine 
race in any land that was under Roman rule. 

9. Romanos was urged by his own wife to try to expel his mother, 
Helena, and his sisters from the palace and to banish them to the palace 
of Antiochos. When Helena learnt of this she managed to change his 
mind by using tears and threats, for he was afraid of her curses. He let her 
remain where she was, but he had his sisters taken out and tonsured as 
nuns by John, hegoumenos of Stoudios’ monastery. Once [their brother] 
was no more, they put aside both the monastic habit and vegetarianism. 
[Meanwhile] Helena was deeply pained by her daughters’ fate; she lived 
a short while and then departed this life, 20 September, fifth year of the 
Indiction. 21 She received an imperial funeral and was interred in the sar- 
cophagus of her father. 12 

10. As we mentioned earlier, Nikephoros Phokas was commanded to 
return from Crete but was refused permission to enter the capital; 23 he was 
ordered to the East with his entire army. Chambdan had been recover- 
ing from his recent defeat and was now ready tor action again. He had 
assembled an army ready for battle and it was anticipated that he would 
launch an attack on Roman territory. However, when Phokas arrived in 
Syria [253] he put [the Hagarenes] to night in a pitched battle and severely 
crushed them, repelling them into the remoter parts of Syria. He pillaged 
the city of Berroia, all except the citadel; he acquired great riches, much 
booty and many prisoners. He released the Christians who were being 
held prisoner there and sent them home. 14 

lE The exact location of this covered cistern constructed by the patrician Bonos at the beginning 
of the seventh century has not yet been established* It is, however, clear th at both the cistern 
and the palace which had the same name were in the general vicinity of Holy Apostles: Jan in, 
Constantinople , 128-9, 206-7. 

]LJ Located to the north-west of the Hippodrome: Janin, Constantinople , 310* 

10 Zoc, Theodora and Theophano. 

21 September 961* 

;; i.e. at the Myrelaion where Romanos 1 had decided to establish the family mausoleum. 

■■ Tli is is not correct for the sources nearer to the event than Skylitzes report that Nikephoros cel- 
ebrated a triumph: Leo the Deacon, 23—4 (tr. 76) and see below: reign of Ba silll. 

14 In 962 Nikephoros, once again domestic of the scholai for the hast, led sever a 1 ca m pa i gn s aga i n st 
Saybad-Doula. He defeated the forces of Ta rsus in the spring and took Anazarba, In December, 
with the support of John Tzimiskes, st rat egos of the Armeniakon theme, he surprised the 
Hamdanid and took his capital, Aleppo (Berroia in Greek), but did not succeed in storming the 
great fortress which was its acropolis* He withdrew in the last days of December* 


Basil II Bulgaroktonos and Constantine VIII 


i. [254] Romanos was succeeded as emperor by his sons, Basil and 
Constantine, together with Theophano, their mother, who bore a daugh- 
ter whom they named Anna/ two days before [Romanos’] death. 

2. Romanos was tall, but less tall than his father. H e was courteous a nd 
gentle in his ways and not without brains. Even as a young man his mind 
was sharp and quick; he would have been perfectly capable of governing 
the state if he had been allowed to do so by the attendants but his closest 
companions encouraged him to give free rein to his youthful excesses. In 
order to keep themselves in office running the state and free to acquire 
wealth for their own use, they portrayed him as a useless, idle fellow. 

3. In April of the same (sixth) year of the indiction 1 * * Nikephoros Phokas 
came to Constantinople at the Sovereign Lady’s request, in spite of Joseph 
[Bringas’] repeated protests. He celebrated a triumph in the Hippodrome 
with the spoils of Crete and of Berroia. He also brought a portion of the 
raiment of John the Baptist which he had found conserved at Berroia. 4 
Bringas regarded him with fear and suspicion but [Nikephoros] was able 
to lead him astray by deceiving him in the following way. Taking one of 
his bodyguards with him, he went to Joseph’s house around supper time. 
[255] He knocked at the door and told the doorkeeper to announce who 
had come. He was announced and invited in, whereupon he took Joseph 
apart and showed him the hair shirt he was wearing under his clothes. 
He told Joseph (and swore that it was true) that he wou Id h ave embraced 
the monastic way of life, donned the habit and delivered himself from 
worldly cares long ago, had he not been detained by his attachment to 

1 Anna was born on 13 March 963* 2 April 963. 

’ Berroia is the Creek name of Aleppo* The triumph is described by Leo the D eacon, (tr. 8q). 

I he booty went to augment the imperial treasury. On the two triumphs of Nikephoros see M. 
McCormick* E tern a l vi do ry: tri u m pha l ru le rsh ip in la te an ti q u i ty f Byza ntium, and ea rly m edi eva l 
west (Cambridge, MA, 1986), 164-70, 

4 Th e arm of John the Baptist had been imported irom Antioch some years earlier: reign of 
Constantine V 1 1 as an adult, c, 14. 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

the emperors Constantine and Romanos; 5 6 7 * now he was going to do what 
he had so long intended to do as soon as possible. He implored the other 
not to be suspicious of him without grounds. Joseph fell at his feet when 
th is was revealed, begged his pardon and assured him that he would never 
again lend any credence to anyone who spoke ill of him.' 1 

4. But Bringas was suspicious of the emperor Stephen, still in the land 
of the living, exiled to Methymne, and endeavoured to have him impris- 
oned more securely. He, however, after receiving the holy mysteries on the 
feast of Holy Saturday, suddenly and unexpectedly died, for no apparent 
reason. Yet even though she was living far away, it was Th eophano who 
procured his death. 

5. When the wife of Peter, the emperor [sic] of the Bulgars, died, he 
made a treaty with the emperors ostensibly to renew the peace, surren- 
dering his own sons, Boris and Romanos, s as hostages. He himself died 
shortly afterwards, 9 10 whereupon the sons were sent to Bulgaria to secure 
the ancestral throne and to restrain the ‘children of the counts’ from 
further encroachments. David, Moses, Aaron and [256] Samuel, children 
of one of the power! ul counts in Bulgaria, were contemplating an uprising 
and were unsettling the Bulgars’ land. 

6. After Bringas was beguiled by Nikephoros in the way which we have 
explained he let him go home. Afterwards he thought better of it and 
was very angry with himself for having had the prey in the net and then 
been so foolish as to let it go; so he set about thinking by what subterfuge 

5 At the time of the conquest of Crete Nikephoros had already spoken to Athanasios, the future 
founder of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos, of his desire to embrace the monastic life: Life of 
Athanasios , Vita A, chs, 30-1, 15; Vita B, ch. 11, 137. 

6 The account of Leo the Deacon, ed. H ase, 32—4, is quite different: Nikephoros was contemplat- 
ing revolt but he no longer had the regiments of the east at his disposal, they having been sent 
back to their homes* So he decided to come to Constantinople in order to celebrate his triumph. 
Thwarted by Bringas (who would have imprisoned him), Nikephoros denounced the intentions 
of his enemy to the patriarch Polyeuktos who, in great anger, came before the Senate and had 
the command of the forces of the cast conferred on Nikephoros [again] — even in the presence of 
Bringas — with orders to make no move whatsoever prejudicial to the young emperors. 

7 On the island of Mytilene (Lesbos): J. Koder, Aigaion P elagos (Die nordliche Agais) (TIB, 10, 
Vienna, 1998), 228—30; reign of Constantine VII as an adult, c. 2* 

Maria Lecapena must have died in 963* 

9 Peter of Bulgaria died 20 January 969, Skylitzes is simplifying matters here for Peter crossed swords 
with Nikephoros in 966 when the latter was unwilling to continue paying the tribute established in 
the time of Symeon, which led to hostilities (see below, on the reign of Nikephoros Phokas, c. 20)* 

10 Or 'sons of the count*, kometopoloi: J* Ferluga, Te soulevement des ComitopoulesJ, ZRV1 ", 9 
(1966), 75—84; \X . Seibt suggests that the kometopoloi were of Armenian origin: ‘Untersu chon gen 
zur Vo r- u n d Friih-geschichte der ^bulgarischen” Kometopoulen^ Handes Amsorya , 89 (1975), 
6 5—100. Skylitzes is anticipating an uprising which came about after the death of John Tzimiskes 
in 976* On the shaky chronology of the Bulgar wars: C. Holmes, Basil II and the governance oj 
empire (pj6—iQ2$) (Oxford Studies in Byzantium, Oxford, 2005), 102—3. 

Basil II Bulgaroktonos 

2 47 

lie might be relieved of his concern over the matter. The most effective 
measure he could think of was to write to the magister John Tzimiskes, 
a high-spirited man of action and the most distinguished of the Roman 
commanders after Phokas himself, at that time serving as commander of 
the Anatolikon theme; and also to the magister Romanos Kourkouas, 
another distinguished general serving in the east. He would send them let- 
ters inciting them with promises of friendship, honours and gifts to over- 
throw Phokas. The letters were written and this is their substance: if [the 
addressees] wo uld rise up and depose Phokas/ 2 tonsuring him a monk or 
[removing him] by any other way, John wo uld receive the supreme appoint- 
ment of domestic of the scholai for the East while Romanos would become 
domestic for the West. As soon as the letters had been delivered to the men 
in question, they immediately read them to Phokas (to whom they were 
very loyal) and besought him to react in no uncertain way or to devise 
some noble and audacious stratagem. They threatened to kill him with 
their own hands when he delayed and procrastinated. Since he feared that 
his life was in danger, he permitted them to proclaim him [emperor] on 2 
July, the same year of the indiction, and he was indeed acclaimed emperor 
of the Romans by the entire army of the east assembled by Tzimiskes.' 3 

7. [257] That is what one version of the story says. There is another ver- 
sion which is more likely to be true, according to which Phokas had long 
been labouring under the impression that he ought to be emperor, and that 
he burned not only with this passion, but also with desire for the empress 
Theophano whom he had encountered while he was staying in the cap- 
ital. He frequently sent his most trusted servant, Michael, to her; which 
fact Bringas noted and, consequently, became suspicious of him. When 
news of his acclamation 14 reached Constantinople and everything was in 





John, surnamed Tzimiskes, a word o f Armenian origin referring to his small stature, was of the 
Kourkouas family which had Armenian blood in it. His grandfather, Theophilos, had been strate- 
gos of Chaldia and had gained some brilliant victories over the Arabs. John s mother (who bore 
him c. 925) was the sister of Nikephoros Phokas; his first wife was the sister of Bard as Skleros. 
He was a highly successful warrior, as the Arab as well as the western sources attest. In 958 he 
defeated Naga abKasaki, one of the emirs of Sayf ad-Dowla, then routed ad-Dowla himself 
before Ra ban: A, A. Vasil iev, Byzance et les Arabes II, 362—3. He had been serving as strategos 
of the Anatolikon theme since Leo Phokas abandoned that position to become domestic of the 
sc holai for the East in 959. 

Romanos was a first cousin of John Tzimiskes, the strategos of an important theme — probably the 
Armeniakon theme, for he seems to be the next strategos in order of precedence after Jo hn. 

The army of the east had been concentrated under the pretext of opposing Sayf ad-Dowla and 
Nikephoros had established it at Caesarea in Cappadocia; that is where he was proclaimed 
emperor. The account of I >eo the Deacon, 38—40 (tr. 89—90), gives more derail; Leo is one of the 
sources named by Skylitzes in his Proimion. 

Nikephoros had sent a letter addressed to the patriarch Polyeuktos, to Joseph the parakoimomenos 
and to the Senate, ask ing to he received as emperor, Joseph was so angry that lie flung the person 

248 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

a state of disarray, Joseph (who was effectively in charge of everything) 
was very worried and at a loss what action to take, for he himself was 
by no means beloved of the citizens on account of being so unapproach- 
able. When Nikephoros Phokas came with his entire army right down to 
Chrysopolis, acclaimed all the way, Bringas decided to set up some other 
emperor, under the impression that in this way he would somewhat abate 
the fervour of the army’s advance. 5 When the acclamation of Phokas took 
place in the way we described, his father, Bardas, who was living at the 
capital, took refuge in the Great Church while Leo [Nikephoros’] brother 
managed to escape, even though he was held under tight security, and 
joined his brother. These events caused Bringas to lose heart and reduced 
him to inactivity, tor he was totally incapable of flattering and swaying 
public opinion in adverse circumstances. It would have been necessary to 
massage the crowds attitude with soft and flattering speeches, while he 
tended rather to prickle and aggravate them. Everybody came running 
to the Great Church and, to put fear into the multitude, he spoke arro- 
gant and savage words, saying: 1 will put an end to your impudent and 
disgraceful behaviour; I will make you pay one piece of gold for as much 
grain as you can carry in your bosom.’ Less than one full day [258] after he 
had said that (it was a Sunday, 9 August), in the evening of the same day, 
Basil the parakoimomenos of the emperor Constantine (who was anti- 
pathetic and hostile to Joseph) mingled his own servants'" w ith h is friends 
and relations, then sent them into many parts of the city, to the houses of 
those who were opposed to him. From the first hour of Monday unto the 
sixth they ravaged and destroyed many citizens’ houses, of which foseph’s 
was the most significant; and not only the houses of distinguished men 
and officials who seemed to be of the opposition, but of many other lesser 
folk too. There was no numbering the many houses that were overthrown. 
Who ever had a difference with another person would take a band of des- 
peradoes with him and slaughter that person with nobody intervening 
on his behalf. Many men were murdered in this lawless time, and while 
this was going on in the squares of the city, in the main thoroughfares, 
the marketplaces and the back streets they were acclaiming Nikephoros 

bringing the letter (Philotheos ? metropolitan ol Euchaita) into prison: Leo the Deacon, 44—5 
(tn 95). 

^ Leo the Deacon j 45 (tr. 95 b says that Joseph attempted to mobilise the western army by plac- 
ing it tinder the command of Marianos Argyros, at that time katepan of the west: Iheophanes 
Continuatus , 480. He also appointed Paschalios and the Tornikioi brothers to command it. But 
there was a disturbance at the capital in the course of which Marianos was mortally wounded by a 
tile th town by a woman* This completely disorganised the defence: Leo the Deacon, 46 (tr. 96). 
There were 3,000 of them: Leo the Deacon, 47. 

Basil II Bulgaroktonos 

2 49 

the conqueror. This drew Bardas, the father of Phokas, out of the Great 
Church where he had pitiably sought refuge, for he perceived that he was 
no longer in danger. But Joseph the parakoimomenos, formerly so high 
and mighty, now took his place as a humble suppliant, fearing for his life. 
The partisans of Basil the parakoimomenos prepared some ships, took the 
imperial galley and pass ed over to Chrysopolis w ith the entire fleet. There 
they brought Nikephoros on board and conveyed him to Hebdomon, from 
where they and all the city population bore him in procession through 
the Golden Gate, [259] into the capital, with cheering and applause, with 
trumpets and cymbals. When they arrived at the Great Church, they con- 
trived to have the patriarch Polyeuktos place the Imperial diadem on his 
brow. Polyeuktos did indeed crow r n him, in the ambo of the Great Church 
of God, on Sunday, 16 August, sixth year of the indiction. 

37 The date is confirmed: P. Schreiner, Die byzantinishen Kleinchroniken I, H isto richer Kommentar 
(CFHBj 12, Vienna, 1975-7), 153, no, 3, 


Nikephoros II Phokas [963—969] 

1. [260] [Nikephoros] despatched the synkellos, a Stoudite monk named 
Anthony, 2 to expel Theophano from the palace and sent her to the Petrion 
palace. Shortly after that he sent Joseph the parakoimomenos into exile 
in Paphlagonia then, before long, transferred. him to a monastery known 
as Asekretls in Pythia 1 [ Ihessaly] where he lived for two whole years and 
then died. [Nikephoros] also promoted his own father, Bardas, 1 ' to the rank 
of caesar. 

2. On 20 September he put aside all pretence and play-acting by taking 
Iheophano to be his lawful wife. It was th en that he started eating meat 
again; he had been abstaining from it ever since the death of Bardas, the 
son born to him by his first wife. This son had b een horse-riding on the 
plain, sporting with his own nephew Pleuses, when he was accidentally 
but mortally wounded with a spear." Only Nikephoros and God know 
whether this was really an abstinence or merely an affectation to deceive 

There is no recent monograph on th is emperor. It is still possible to profit enormously from C. 
Schl umberger, Un empereur by zan tin au Xe siecle: Nicephore Phokas (Paris, 1890). Important mod- 
ern works include: R. Morris, ‘The two faces of Nikephoros Phokas*, BMGS y 12 (1988), 83—115; 
Dagron and Mihaescu, Traite; E. McGeer, Sowing the dragons teeth: Byzantine warfare in the tenth 
century (DOS, 33, Washington, DC, 1995). Morris (using earlier work by A. Kazhdan) rema rks 
that there are two traditions, one favourable to Nikephoros, e.g, Leo the Deacon, and one hostile — 
which Skylitzes used. The chroniclers probably gained their information from a Phok as family 

As synkellos Anthony was heir apparent* to the patriarchal throne. He did not, however, succeed 
Polyeuktos directly, but he did succeed Basil Skamandrenos in 973: J. Daxrouzes, Sur la chronolo- 
gic du patriarche Antoine 111 Stoudite*, REB y 46 (1988), 55— do, Anthony was patriarch until 97S, 

A district of Constantinople adjacent to the Golden Horn which gave its name to both a port and 
a palace: Jan in, Constantinople , 407—8. 

This is the only known reference to this monastery: Janin, Grands centres , 11, 86. Pythia, close to 
Pylai (now Yalova) was famous for its baths. 

Bardas Phokas had attain ed many ranks in the imperial hierarchy and was now magisten The title 
of caesar had not been given since the demise of Bardas, the uncle of Michael III. Leo Phokas was 
appointed curopalates at this time. 

1 he Peus[t]ai probably came originally from Pontes. 


25 1 

Nikephoros If Phokas 

those in power. The marriage was celebrated at the New Church in the 
palace. When it came to the point of entering the sanctuary, Polyeuktos, 
leading the emperor by the hand, approached the sacred enclosure and 
entered the sanctuary himself but forced the emperor to remain outside, 
saying that he would not allow him to enter the sanctuary [261] until 
he had performed the penance required of one who marries a seco nd 
time. 7 8 This offended Nikephoros and he never ceased being indig- 
nant with Polyeuktos until the day of his death. Now a rumour went 
out in all directions, a rumour that disturbed the church in no sm all 
way, that Nikephoros had stood godfather for one of lheophanos chil- 
dren at his holy baptism. Taking this rumour as an opportune pretext, 
Polyeuktos demanded that Nikephoros either separate from his wife (as 
the canon required) or that he stay away from church — which in fact 
he did, cleaving to Theophano. Polyeuktos summoned the bishops resid- 
ing in the city together with the leading senators and invited their opin- 
ion on this matter. Ihey all said that [the canon in question] was a law 
of [Constantine V] Kopronymos and that, in their estimation, it need 
not be observed, lliey put their signatures to a statement to that effect 
and delivered it to him. When Polyeuktos still delayed in admitting the 
emperor to communion, the caesar [Bardas Phokas] asserted that [his 
son] had not stood godfather; and Stylianos, the dean of the clergy of 
the Great Palace (who was reputed first to have put the rumour in circu- 
lation), came before the Synod and the Senate and swore that neither had 
he seen Bardas or Nikephoros stand godfather nor had he told anybody 
that he had. Whereupon Polyeuktos, fully aware that Stylianes was per- 
juring himself, withdrew the charge of marrying the mother of his god- 
child. H e who had been demanding tbe penance for a second marriage 
now turned a blind eye to that grave offence. 

3. In the first year of his reign Nikephoros despatched the patri- 
cian Manuel against the Saracens in Sicily with an army and navy of 

7 For both Theophano and for Nikephoros this was a second marriage, which the church did not 
forbid, but tor which it did require a penance to be done: two years for a second marriage, five tor 
a third* Thus the fourth canon of Basil, commented on by Theodore Balsamon at the end of the 
twe Ifrh century: G* Ralles and M ♦ Potles* Syntagma ton theion kai hieron kanonon * tv (Athens, 
1868), 103, 

8 ‘God*- relationships were counted in the same way as other relationships in determining whom 
one cou u or could not marry* On such relationships: E* Patlagean, Christianisation et pa rentes 
spiri cue lies: le dornaine de Ryzance’, An miles ESC (1978), 625—36, repr. F. Patlagean, Structure 
so dale, famille, chretiente a Ryzance IVe—XIe siecle (London, 1981), no* x 1 1 . 

To invalidate a precedent completely it on 1 y had to be attributed to an iconoclast emperor, prefer- 
ably to Constantine V Kopronymos* 
lD Protopapas. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

considerable size. Manuel was the illegitimate son of his fathers brother, 
Leo, the former domestic of the scholai who was blinded by Romanos the 
elder. [262] [Nikephoros] felt that he would be assailed by disgrace if the 
Roman empire were to pay tribute to the Saracens during his reign. 

4. We must quickly explain what this tribute was that was paid to 
the Saracens and how it started. When the city of Syracuse was taken 
by the Saracens of Africa in the time of Basil [I] the Macedonian,' 1 the 
whole of the island also hell under their control. Its cities were devas- 
tated; Palermo alone was spared as the Hagarenes maintained it as a 
base for operations against the land at the other side [of the water]. From 
there they sailed out to ravage the islands as far as the Peloponnese; 
the chances of them attacking were greater than ever before. The em- 
peror Basil was at a loss what to do. He searched for a servant capable 
of undertaking this mission and his choice fell on the domestic of the 
scholai, Nikephoros, surnamed Phokas after a distinguished ancestor. 13 
He was the grandfather of the emperor Nikephoros, a noble and wise 
man, devout in his relations with God, just towards his fellow men. He 
sailed to Italy with an army of sorts and promptly put the Saracens to 
flight, forcing them to bide their peace in Sicily. Ihe Italians are said 
to have built a church to perpetuate the memory of his excellence, not 
only for having secured their freedom, but in gratitude for another deed 
which is worth recording. When the Romans were about to return home 
wi th th eir commander, they were holdi ng many Italians whom they 
intended to take overseas as slaves. Nikephoros became aware of this but 
said not a word. He gave no hint of what he intended to do until they 
arrived In Brindisi, from where [263] they were to cross to Illyria. When 
they got there, he personally supervised the embarkation of each one ot 
th e soldiers in preparation for the crossing. By this intervention he per- 
mitted the local inhabitants freely to occupy their own land. Thereupon 
Italy remained at peace until the time of Constantine Porphyrogennetos 
and his mother, when the Saracens stirred themselves again and, since 
there was nothing to stop them, overran Italy. those in power realised 
that they were incapable of withstanding the Saracens both in the east 
and in the west (for the Bulgars had just broken the peace treaty) so 
they decided to negotiate with the Saracens in Sicily. An agreement was 

" On Leo Phokas the elder: reign of Constantine VII as a minor, e. 13. On Manuel: Cheynet, 
'Phocas’j 306, reproduced in C hey net, Societe , 488. 

11 See above, the reign ol Basil L c. 37. 

r? Basil I, c. 38 (above)* Nikephoros the elder did not yet have the title of domestic of the scholai at 
the time ol the Italian campaign. 

Nikephoros II Phokas 253 

reached by the commander of Calabria,' 4 Eustathios, one of the imperial 
chamberlains, that an annual tribute would be paid to the Saracens of 
twenty-two thousand gold pieces.' 51 

5. When the treaty had been made, the patrician John Mouzalon was 
promoted commander of Calabria, but he governed the peo pie of the land 
with such a heavy hand that they slew him and went over to Dandulf, the 
king of LongobardiaT This was just after Romanos the Elder came to rule 
over the Romans. He judged it expedient for soldiers and ships to be sent 
there to recover the portion which had been separated from the whole. 
1 he patrician Kosmas ofThessalonike was sent, a man known to Dandulf. 
When he had crossed to Italy and made contact with Dandulf/ 7 he advised 
him to withdraw from the land of the Romans and to become a friend of 
the emperor, thus gaining a friend and an ally in place of an enemy. At 
first Dandulf would not accept his advice; then Kosmas, a wise and intelli- 
gent man, said to him: T have to give salutary advice to a friend, [264] but 
if you are unwilling to heed me when I offer advantageous counsels, you 
will quickly learn how great a mistake you have made when, after plun- 
ging yourself and all your people into the most severe danger, you come to 
grief. For you cannot withstand so great and strong a power.’ Dandulf real- 
ised the patrician was showing him the path he should take; he accepted 
his exhortation and concluded a treaty. He instructed the rulers of the 
apostate themes to return to their former allegi ance and acknowledge 
their own emperor. When they had returned to obedience profound peace 
reigned over the affairs of Italy and of Longobardia. 

6. Symeon, the chieftain of the Bulgars, became over-confident on 
account of the many victories he had won against the Romans and began 
to dream of becoming their emperor. He sent to Phatloum, hereditary ruler 
of the Africans, 1 * urging him to despatch a fleet against the imperial city, 
promising that he would come through Thrace leading a powerful army. 

14 Wc do nor know the exact date at which the theme of Calabria was created; it was, however, 
prior to 950:* Listes , 356, If the title attributed h y Skylkzes to Eustathios and John 
Mouzalon (or Byzalon) is official, these are the first known strategoi of that theme, 

] - This agreement (only mentioned by Skylitzes) would have been made in 920: Vasiliev and Canard, 
Byzance et les Arabes , 11.1:228* 

John wou idh ave been levying very heavy taxes to pay the tribute owing to the Moslems o fAfr lea. 
He was contemplating a revolt against the emperor when he was killed by those under his super- 
vision in 921—2: V. von Falkenhausen, La dominazione bizantina nelV Italia meridionale dal IX all* 
XI secolo (Bari, 1978), 102—3. 

17 In 935 the patrician Kosmas was sent to Lan dulph, pr i nee ol Capua and Ben even to, who had 
re helled a second time. According to Ha Ido n, ‘Military administration’, 202—352, at 235-7, 
Kosmas went with an army ol 1,453 cavalrymen: Falkenhausen, Dominazione , 131 2. 

At this time the Maghreb was dominated by the Fa timid ahMahdi: Islamic Egypt, 640— 151 y, ed. C* 
F. Petry (The Cambridge History of Egypt, i, Cambridge, 1998), 129—30. 


254 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

Then, when the two forces came together, they would besiege the cap- 
ital by land and water and share her riches equally, whereupon he would 
return home leaving Phatloum at Constantinople. The Bulgars sailed to 
Africa unnoticed, where Symeon s proposals met with approval. They took 
some eminent Saracens to ratify the agreement with them but, on the 
way home, they ran into some Calabrians who sent them to Byzantium 
together with the Saracens. When the emperor (Romanos the Elder) saw 
them and learnt all about their common strategy, he realised what a sea 
of troubles he would have experienced had it been realised. He consid- 
ered it necessary to restrain the Saracens from this present endeavour by 
means of magnanimity and benefits. He flung the Bulgars into prison but 
honoured the Saracens with extravagant gifts. He even sent sumptuous 
presents to their ruler and returned the men unharmed. He told them to 
declare to their master that this was the way the Roman emperors knew 
how to reward their enemies. He apologised for the annual tribute, [265] 
saying that the delay was not due to a postponement or deferment ot pay- 
ment, but to the disturbance which at that time had the region in its grip. 
The Saracens went running back to their own ruler, reporting on how they 
had fared when they were with the emperor and singing the praises of his 
benevolence to them. They handed over the presents they had brought to 
Phatloum and he was so pleased with everything he heard that he remitted 
half the tribute that the Romans owed him, cutting eleven thousand from 
the twenty-two thousand [pieces of gold]. That is how much the Romans 
gave to the Saracens from that time until the proclamation of Nikephoros." 
And as long as the land had wise and just rulers, their subjects led an 
untroubled life and the tribute owing to the Saracens was eas ily paid. But 
once th e task of ruling was entrusted to unjust and greedy men, their sub- 
jects experienced hard times and the treaty with the Saracens no longer 
held fast. Then came Krinites Chaldos, appointed commander of Calabria 
by [Constantine VII] Porphyrogennnetos. 1 he Saracens of Africa and 
Sicily were then at the point of being completely exhausted both by fam- 
ine and also by their war against the Saracens of Cyrene. Motivated by 
pure greed [Krinites] aided them to recover while he severely maltreated 
those under his authority. What he did was to buy up all the necessities of 
life at a ridiculous price from the people of the land then sell them dearly 

T9 I he truth of the matter is that the Fatimids needed peace in order to accomplish their grand 
design of conquering Egypt, which they succeeded in doi ng by 969: Islamic Egypt> ed, Petry, 

10 Once Constantine was rid of the Lekapenoi he brought in some new men, including Krinites, 
who was sent to Calabria in 945: Hal ken hausen, Dominazione , 103. 

Nikephoros II Phokas 255 

to the Saracens — who paid his price without arguing. They disbursed gold 
generously, pressed as they were between the two millstones of famine and 
war. But Krinites was relieved of his command by Constantine; having 
suffered the confiscation of his fortune he grew old and died in disgrace. 
Now, during the war, the Romans had accepted deserters fleeing from 
Carthage, and these the Carthaginians made no effort to reclaim. In fact, 
they had even waived the annual tribute, perhaps for fear that the Romans 
would take offence and prevent the purchase of the necessities of life, thus 
putting [the Saracens] in danger of being destroyed by famine. But after- 
wards, when the war was over, they demanded both the deserters [2 66] 
and the tribute and, when nobody paid any attention to them, they broke 
the peace treaty; each day they sailed over and ravaged Calabria. 

7. Constantine, who was now emperor, had not the slightest wish to 
treat the Saracens as gently as his father-in-law had done nor to renew 
the peace treaty. His preference was to have the matter decided by war, 
so he assembled a battle-worthy force, put the patrician Malakenos in 
charge of it and sent it off to Calabria with orders to join forces with the 
commander of the region, Paschalios, who was mentioned a little earlier. 
Together with him they were to wait in readiness for the war which the 
Carthaginians and Sicilians were threatening. Makroioannes was put in 
command of the fleet that was sent along. When [the soldiers] arrived in 
the 1 and, they inflicted a myriad evils on the people there; they went loot- 
ing and committing other atrocities which even the enemy would hesitate 
to perpetrate. When the emir of the Saracens, Aboulchare, 11 heard this 
(for Phatloum was already dead), he encouraged his men and urged them 
to have no fear of an army which could treat its own people with sue h b ru- 
tality. He provoked a great battle and gained a splendid, glorious victory 
in which even th e senior officers only just escaped being taken alive. 

8. After this, the emperor Constantine sent John Pilatos, the asecretis, 
to hold peace talks with the Saracens. As it was not their custom to take 
advantage of their victories, but to conclude a peace while they held the 
upper hand, 15 they were willing listeners and a short-term peace agree- 
ment was concluded. However, once this expired they sailed across and 
were ravaging Calabria again, so Constantine sent another expedition 



It was in 951 that Malakenos was sent to reinforce Paschalios, the strategy s of Calabria* Both were 
defeated near Gerace by the governor ol Sicily, I lasan, on 7 May 952: Falkenhausen, Dominaziont% 
82—3; A* A. Vasil iev, Byzance et les Arahes , it: Les relations politques de Byzance et des Arabes a 
V ipoque de la dynastie macedonienne t ed. M, Canard (CRHR 2, i 3 Brussels, 1968), 366—8, 

Ha san, the governor of Sicily, had received reinforcements from ahManiur, the successor of 

Unusual praise from the hand of a Roman! 

2 1 

Nikephoros II Phokas 

2 57 

came to the town of Adana’ 1 [268] he encountered a considerable number 
of hand-picked Hagarenes gathered from all over Cilicia. He joined bat- 
tle with them and thoroughly routed them. Some of them were hewn in 
pieces according to the rules of war but a portion of the army, about five 
thousand in number, dismounted and took refuge on toot on a very rug- 
ged and precipitous mountain. Taking full advantage of their location, 
they stoutly repelled their assailants. John surrounded them and, since 
there was no approaching them on horseback, he ordered his men to dis- 
mount and then he advanced together with them, on foot. He prevailed 
against the foe and slew every one, for not a man got away and blood ran 
down the mountainside onto the plain like a river; it is on account of this 
incident that the mountain is called ‘the mountain of blood’. Ihis accom- 
plishment enhanced the reputation of John yet more; it was the beginning 
of the complete defeat of the Saracens. ■ 

11. In July of the second year of his reign, seventh year of the indic- 
tion, Nikephoros advanced against Cilicia with a massive army of Romans 
together with Iberian and Armenian allies. 33 Theophano and her children 
were with him too. He left her in a fortress known as Drizion 4 before 
entering Cilicia an d th en advanced into that region where he destroyed 
the cities of Anazarbos, Rhossos 35 and Adana in addition to no small num- 
ber of other fortresses. He hesitated to approach Tarsus or Mopsuestia 36 as 
winter was already drawing on. He left an adequate detachment there and 
withdrew to pass the winter in Cappadocia. 

12. At the beginning of spring he advanced into Cilicia again where he 
divided the army into two parts: he left his brother Leo [269] to besiege 
Tarsus with one part, while he took the other one and advanced on 
Mopsuestia. There he conducted a vigorous siege and, with famine work- 
ing in his favour, was able to take part of the city. This city is divided 

One of the main fortified towns of Cilicia: R H i Id and \L Restle, Kappadokien ( Kappadokia > 
Charsianon , Sebasteia und Lykandos) (TIB, 2, Vienna, 19 Si), 154—8, 

52 By annihilating the best soldiers of the emir Sayf ad^Doula this victory prepared the way for the 
emperor’s wars of annexation: M . Canard, Histoire de la dynastic des Hamdanides de Jazira et de 
Syrie (Paris, 195})? 818—19. 

- July 964, but according to Yahya of Antioch, 1, 793, the emperor must have set out earlier since 
he utterly defeated the army of th e emir of Tarsus between 1 6 May and T4 June. Yahya’s date is to 
be preferred because the commanders avoided fighting in Cilicia in the hottest times of the year. 
Nikephoros Phokas relied on the heavy cavalry known as kataphraktoil McGeer, Byzantine war- 
fare, 301-17. 

* Tie ruins of this fortress lie close to Nigde: Hild an d R estle, Kappadokien , 172—3. 

^ A port to the south o f Al exandria: Hild and Restle, Kappadokien , 392—3. 

16 One oi the oldest towns of Asia Minor, located on the banks of the Pyrames. It was olten fought 
over by the Arabs and Romans in the seventh and eighth century: Hild and Restle, Kappadokien , 

35 T — 9* 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

in two by the river Saros, giving it the appearance of two cities. 17 The 
one part he took, as we said but, when it fell, the Saracens fled to the 
other one, burning everything in the captured half. The emperor intensi- 
fied the siege and the other half fell to him; nobody escaped from there. 
But now Leo, the emperor’s brother who was besieging Tarsus, suffered 
a setback. He sent out a detachment of his army under the command of 
Monasteriotes to gather forage and other necessities of life. They had 
posted no guards and were well spread out when the men of Tarsus sal- 
lied forth by night without them being in the least aware of it; these fell 
on the dispersed soldiers and brought down no small number of them, 
including Monasteriotes himself. But when the people of Tarsus became 
aware of the fall of Mopsuestia, exhausted by siege and famine, they sent 
a delegation to Leo. They begged the emperor to let them go unharmed 
if they would surrender their city. Having permitted ea ch man to carry 
away a specified amount of booty, he iy took possession of all the remain- 
ing wealth of the city himself. 40 

13 ■ Three days after the city was taken a very large fleet arrived from 
Egypt to relieve Tarsus, filled with grain and other necessities of life, it 
was prevented from approaching land and discharging its cargo by the 
soldiers who had been posted by the emperor to guard the coast. Since 
they were unable [270] in these circumstances to be of any use, the ships 
returned. Many of them were wrecked either by stormy winds or by the 
attacks of the imperial warships. 

14. After pillaging and burning down the remaining cities of Cilicia the 
emperor returned to Constantinople in October, ninth year of the indic- 
tion, bringing the gates of Tarsus and of Mopsuestia with him. These he 
had covered with gold on the surface and made an offering of them to the 

Setting out again in November 964,. Nikephoros captured Adana, Ana bar za and more tha n twenty 
other strongholds before appearing before the walls of Mopsuestia* A difficult siege ensued, but 
the emperor succeeded by placing mines under the two towers, which collapsed: Leo the Deacon, 
52—3 (tr. 101— 3), The city fell 13 July 965, the Romans taking a multitude of prisoners; Yahya of 
Antioch, I, 795—6, Under the command of a strategos, a garrison was installed in w hat was to be 
the capital of a new theme, the existence of which is attested by the Taktikon Scorialensis: Hild 
and Hellenkemper, Kilikien , 354; Oikonomides, Lisies, 359* 

Yahya of Antioch does nor mention this (no doubt minor) occurrence. 

Leo or the emperor? The text is unclear; probably the latter, competent to make such decisions* 

4C Nikephoros became master of Tarsus in August 965; here too he installed the strategos of a 
theme: Hild and Hellenkemper, Kilikien , 431. I he city was particularly well fortified for it was 
encircled by two very high walls and protected by a moat fed by the river Kydnos: Leo the Deacon, 
51-61 (tr. 101-9), gives a diiferent account in which he distinguishes between an expedition of 
autumn 954 during which Mosuestia fell, and one in the summer ol 965 which saw the taking of 
Tarsus* The only Moslem leader who sent any aid to his correligionists in Cil icia was Kafur, the 
Ikhchidite master of Egypt: Canard, Hamdanides , 823. 



26 o John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

1 6. That is the kind of man Nikephoros was; such was the strategy he 
employed and that is the extent to which he increased the Roman domains, 
for he captured more than a hundred cities and fortresses in Cilicia, Syria 
and Phoenicia in Lebanon, of which the largest and most significant were 
An aza rb os, Adana, Mopsuestia, Tarsus, Pagras, 48 Synnephion, 49 Laodikeia 
and Aleppo, while he obliged Phoenician Tripoli and Damascus to pay 
tribute. Nevertheless, he was hated by all men and everybody longed to see 
his fall; this narrative will list the reasons why in due course. 

17. When Nikephoros was returning to the capital from Antioch, 51 as 
he was crossing the Taurus [mountain range] at a place in the heart of the 
mountains known locally as the Black Mountain, he built a fortress on a 
practically impregnable hilltop, [272] He gave Michael Bourtzes' : the title 
of patrician and left him in the fortress, naming him commander of the 
Black Mountain. 54 His orders were to keep constant watch and to use every 
means to prevent the Antiochenes from coming out to obtain the neces- 
sities of life. He also left a dynamic slave named Peter, one of his eunuchs, 
whom he appointed camp commander in Cilicia, 55 with orders to disperse 
the army for the winter and await his return in the following spring. It 
was said that the emperor could have taken Antioch by assault but that 
he did not want to; that he purposely delayed and postponed taking it out 

This fortress commanded the approach to Antioch from the north. It was on the road which 
crosses the Anianos coming from Adana by way of Alexandretta* 

49 An unidentified fortress near to Antioch: Honigmann, Ostgrenze y 96, n. 7, and Hild a nd 
I lellenkemper, Kilikien> 423* 

50 Laodikeia in Syria, now Lattakeia. 

After leading his army in northern Syria, Nikephoros left Antioch 22 October 968, having 
remained no more tha n two days before that city: Yahya of Antioch, I, 815* 

52 First mention of this family which was to distinguish itself in the following century; a family 
whose origins remain obscure, maybe from Arab stock: J.-C, Cheynet and J*-F, Vannier, Etudes 
prosapographiques (ByzSorb 5, Paris, 1986), 7-122, at 15-16 = Cheynet, Society 341-7* 

- This is a very high dignity for the strategos of a small theme; maybe this man was related to 
the PhokaL Or it may be that Nikephoros wanted to bring to his side a member of the Arab- 
Christian aristocracy in order to gain the support of a section of the population of Antioch. This 
would explain why Michael Rourtzes was repeatedly appointed duke of that city when it was 
restored to Roman rule* But see Holmes, Basil //, 330—47, who does not think Michael Bourtzes 
was at Antioch as du ke u nd er Tzim iskes. 

The Black Mountain or Arnanos lies between the plain of Antioch and the Mediterranean coasr. 
Several monks chose this wooded area as their place of retreat: Hild and Hellenkemper, Kilikien , 
174—5* There were Georgians among those living there: W* Z* Djobaze, Materials for the study oj 
Georgian monasteries in the western environs of Antioch on the Orontes (Louvain, 1976). 

^ S tra topedarches. I hat Nikephoros should have appointed one of the eunuchs of his household 
head of the army rarher suggests that he did not have complete confidence in the officers he left 
behind* He appears to have set aside John Tzimiskes, his domestic of the scholah Peter, being a 
eunuch, could not be appointed domestic* He is sometimes erroneously named Peter Phokas in 
the literature: Cheynet, Society 488. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

camp commander, fearing that the Roman state might suffer the loss of so 
many such brave men and of such a city through his disobedience, reluc- 
tantly and against his will made haste and arrived with the entire army. 
He found the troops with Bourtzes 59 in very sore straits for they had been 
surroun ded for th ree days and nights. But when the Antiochenes heard of 
his approach they lost heart and relaxed their efforts. Seizing his chance, 
Bourtzes went down to the gate, cut the bar of the retaining device with 
his sword and opened the gates. Peter entered with his entire force and 
that was how Antioch the great, the illustrious, was taken. Nikephoros 
ought to have rejoiced at the capture of such a city when he heard of it and 
left his own fate in the hands of God. On the contrary: it made him sick 
at heart. He brought charges against the camp commander and, as for 
Bourtzes, not only did he refuse to acknowledge his initiative and courage 
and grant him rewards befitting his excellence; he roundly insulted him, 
relieved him of his command and obliged him to remain at home. 

18. For this and other reasons which we are about to mention, 
Nikephoros came to be hated and abominated by everybody. Even at the 
very beginning when there was a movement in his favour, his soldiers were 
committing thousands of confiscations [274] and he did nothing to stop 
them. ‘It is hardly surprising if a few misbehave in such a large body oi 
men/ he remarked. Then, when he entered the city, many citizens, both 
high and low, were plundered without him doing a thing to bring the cul- 
prits to justice. He simply overlooked their misdeeds and took pleasure in 
the atrocities the undisciplined troops permitted themselves, mistreating 
the very citizens who had made no sm all contribution to his rise to power. 
Then when he went off on one of his many expeditions, he maltreated his 
subjects atrociously, not only by imposing additional taxes and requisi- 
tioning all kinds of su p P i ies, but also by unimaginable plundering. In add- 
ition to what has been said, he also suppressed a portion of the customary 
perquisites of the Senate, allegedly because he was short of money for the 
wars, and he completely suppressed the Income which some of the God- 


It is known that he had an Armenian officer at his side whose name was Isaac Braehamios: C hey net 
and Vannier, Etudes prosopographiquesy 19 = Cheynet, Society 377—9. 

28 October 969: Yahya of Antioch, t, R23. The camp commander Peter continued his march 
towards Aleppo and got from the emir Gargawaih a treaty signed in December 969/January 970 
which made his emirate a dependency of the empire. This permitted the Romans to levy com- 
mercial taxes even on Aleppo: Canard, Hamdanides , 832—6; W. Fa rag, 4 The Aleppo question: a 
Byzantine— Fat i mid conflict of interests in northern Syria in the later tenth century’, BMGS, 14 
(1990), 44-60, 

On the fiscal policy of Nikephoros, see P. Magda lino, 'The Byzantine army and the land: from 
stratiotikon ktema to military pronoia\ To empolemo Buzantio (Byzantium at war, \ ninth to the 
twelfth centuries ) y ed. N. Oikonomides (Athens, 1997), 15—36. 



Nikephoros If Phokas 

fearing emperors had instituted as grants to religious houses and churches. 
He even promulgated a law that churches were not to increase their real 
estate holdings,’ 1 for (he wickedly alleged) the bishops were disposing of 
income which should he going to the poor and the soldiers were in need. 
But, worst of all, he made a law (to w hich some feebl e-min ded and fl at' 
tering bishops subscribed) that no bishop was to be elected or consecrated 
without his knowledge and permission. And when a bishop died he would 
send out an imperial agent with orders to control the expenses [of the dio- 
cese] and he wo uld confiscate [the income] in excess of expenses. He made 
some other regulations which cou Id by no means whatsoever be justified 
by need, of which it would be beyonci the wit and tongue of a powerful 
narrator to give a detailed report. 

He endeavoured to establish a law that soldiers who died in war were 
to be accorded martyrs’ honours, thus making the salvation of the soul 
uniquely and exclusively dependent on being in action on military service. 
He was pressing the patriarch and the bishops to agree to this doctrine but 
some of them vigorously withstood him and frustrated his intent. They 
produced as evidence the canon of Basil [275] the Great which requires 
a man who has slain his enemy in battle to remain three years excom- 
municate.’ 4 He reduced the gold coin and devised the so-ca lied tetarter - 
on / From then on there were two sizes of gold coin; for the collecting of 

62 This refers to the novel of 964 which forbade further donations of real estate to churches and 
monasteries. Nikephoros was motivated by the poor management of several monasteries which 
possessed quantities of arable land but were unable to exploit them for want ol capital. On this 
passage: M. Kaplan, Les hornmes et la ter re y 434—5; McGee r, Land legislation > 86—96, gives an 
English translation of the novel together with all other documents dealing with real estate under 
the Macedonian emperors. 

63 The protection of soldiers w'as a major concern for the o lfic ers who were associated with the 
Phokai: Dagron and Mihaescu, Traite y 259—74. 

■ 4 According to Canon XIII of Basil the Great, the penance is two years 5 exclusion from commu' 
nion: N. Oikonomides, L The concept of “Holy War” and two tenth-century Byzantine ivories 5 , 
ed. Miller and Nesbitt, Peace and war y 62—86, at 65. Leo VI complained that the empire was 
at a disadvantage in not having anything equivalent to the Moslem jihad. He could have be en 
echoing the complaints of the officers of the Eastern army, which included the Phokai, When 
Nikephoros made his suggestion, he ran into the objections of the upper echelons of both state 
and church: G. Dagron, Byzance et le mo dele islamique au Xe siecle. A prop os des Constitutions 
Tactiques de Lemper eur Leon VT, Comptes rendus des seances de VAcadimie des Inscripti ons et 
Belles-Lettres (1983)* 219—42, at 231— 2. See also A. Kolia-Dermitzaki, The Byzantine 1 Holy War : the 
idea and propagation of religious war in Byzantium (Athens, 1991) {in Greek hut with a summary in 
English) and more recently J-CL Cheynet, 'La guerre sainte a Byzance au Moyen Age: un malen- 
tendlu 5 in Regards croises sur la guerre sainte* Guerre, religion et ideologic dans Vespace mediterraneen 
latin (Xle-XI lie siecle), ed D. Baloup and Ph. fosserand, Toulouse 2006, 13-32. 

On the tetarterom H, Ahrweiler, ‘Nouvelle hypothese sur le tetarteron er la politique monetaire 
de Nicephore Phokas 5 , ZRVL 8 (1963), 19, repr. Etudes sur les structures administrative s etsociales de 
Byzance (London, 1971), no. in; also M. Hendy, Light-weight solidi, tetartera, and the Book of 
the E pare IT, BZ y 65 (1972), 57—80. 


264 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

taxes he demanded the heavier one but used the small one for his expend- 
iture. And though law and custom required that every [coin bearing] the 
emperor’s effigy, even if it were of short weight, should be of equal value, 
he stipulated that his own should be preferred, thus lowering the va lue of 
others. For this reason his subjects suffered greatly from the exchange rates 
an d th e worst of it was that although the government oppressed them like 
this, the supply of commodities on the market was by no means assured. 
But it was the building of the palace wall which distressed the people more 
than any of the other things, exceedingly onerous though those were. 
There were many structures of size and beauty around the palace which he 
tore down in order to raise up an acropolis; a tyrant’s dwelling over against 
the wretched citizens. He built warehouses and granaries with kitchens 
and bakehouses which he filled with provisions. It was foretold to him that 
he would die within the palace; apparently he was unaware that ‘Except 
the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain’. When the 
wall was finished it happened that he died the very day on which the over- 
seer of the building project brought the keys and handed them over. 

19. In addition to the above there was something else which even fur- 
ther intensified the hatred in which he was held. At the very feast of the 
Holy Easter itself a skirmish occurred between members of the navy 
and some Armenians, in which many lives were lost and the magister 
Sisinnios, the eparch, was almost killed. From this event the rumour went 
the rounds that Nikephoros [276] was exasperated with the citizens whom 
he suspected of being responsible for the skirmish and that he was going 
to punish them by setting a trap for them on a day when the Hippodrome 
was functioning. And in fact, shortly afterwards, when the horse races 
were taki ng pi ace, Nikephoros ordered some men to take naked swords 
and make pretence of fighting each other as though they were enemies, 
to entertain the audience. He wanted to show the citizens what a military 
skirmish was really like; perhaps to frighten them too. But when the skir- 
mish’ took place, the audience — knowing nothing of why it was being 
mounted — assumed that the current rumour was proving to be true, ihey 
charged up the exit ramps, which were all steep and treacherous, fell one 
on top of another and [many] died. They would all have died, trodden 
und er foot by one another, if they had not noticed that the emperor was 
sitting on the throne, fearless and serene. When the mob saw him sitting 

66 Ps. I2f>:rb. MSS FH Add: ‘It happened that while they were building the palace wall, one night, 
somebody out there at sea on a boat called out: ‘Ah emperor, you are building ramparts; but even 
ii you build up to the sky, the evil is within and your city is easily taken.” They searched for a long 
time to find the man who uttered this cry, hut found nothing/ 

Nikephoros II Phokas 265 

there, unmoved, and realised that what had taken place was not what he 
intended, they put an end to the stampede. 

20. On the feast of the Ascension of Christ, Nikephoros went in sol- 
emn procession to Pege, and on the return journey he received relatives 
of those who had 1 ost their lives in the Hippodrome at the breadmakers’ 
square. They began rebuking him in an insulting manner. They ca lied 
him unpunished murderer; defiled assassin, stained with the blood of his 
own people. They were pelting him with dirt and stones all the way to the 
for um of Constantine the Great. He would have been transfixed by fear if 
some more honourable citizens had not intervened, driven off the miscre- 
ants and accompanied him to the palace, singing his praises along the way. 
It was for this reason, that is, when he learnt that the citizens were hostile 
to him, that he built the [palace-] fortress. But there was no escaping his 
destiny; it was just when he thought he had set everything to rights for 
himself that his life was snatched away (we shall tell how at the appropriate 

In June of the fourth year of his reign, tenth year of the indiction, 
[the emperor] set out to visit the towns in Thrace’ 9 [277] and when he 
came to the Great Dyke 70 (as it is called) he wrote to Peter, the ruler 
of B ulgaria, to prevent the Turks from crossing the Danube to raid 
Roman land. [Peter] paid no attention to this but rather took every 
opportunity of doing the opposite; so Nikephoros raised Kalokyros 
(son of the prince of Cherson) to the rank of patrician and sent him 
to Sphcndoslav, the ruler of Russia, to persuade him with promises 
of gifts and honours to campaign against the Rulgars. 71 The Russians 
agreed and set out against Bulgaria in the month of August, eleventh 

67 For the ceremonies of Ascension Day: De caerim, ecL Vogt, i, 101—5, The emperor processed to 
Pege, The route by which he returned is not known but a reception at the breadmakers is indicated 
for the second Monday after Easter (ibid., 1*5, ed* Vogt, 1, 44), The breadmakers* quarter was on 
the central avenue (Mesc) between the forum of Theodosios and the forum of Constantine: Janin, 
Con sta n ti no pie, 315. 

68 He ton artop rate ion agora, 

Tli is was in June 967, Skylitzes is not presenting things in chronological order, The same is true a 
little further on, when he reports the deaths o f the patriarchs of Jerusalem and Antioch, 

70 This was a wall and ditch stretching 130 km to protect the Roman frontier, from Maritsa to lake 
Mandra; P, Soustal, Thrakien (Thrake, Rodope und Haiminontos) (TIB, 6, Vienna, 1991), 261—2, 

7J Pr&teuon , The theme of Cherson was more or less coterminous with the town of the same name at 
that time. As the most illustrious personage o t the town in the Crimea, Kalokyros was obviously 
the appropriate person to negotiate with the Russians of Kiev. 

7:1 Prince of K ievj the son of Olga but, unlike his mother, a pagan. While Nikephoros was negoti- 
ating with him, Spendosthlav had destroyed the Khazar state and destroyed Sarkel: ODB, in, 

I 979* 

7 ' Leo the Deacon, 63 (tr* in— 12), says Nikephoros promised 1,500 pounds of gold. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

features inclined to dark rather than pale. He had thick, dark hair, black 
eyes that were thoughtful and concerned, beneath thick eyebrows. The 
nose was of average size and thickness, slightly turned up at the end. The 
moustache (no larger than it ought to be) merged into the beard on his 
cheeks, which was of loose texture and grey. [282] The body was stooped 
but robust, the chest and shoulders unusually wide. His strength and vig- 
our equalled the famous Hercules and he outstripped every man of his 
generation for wisdom and intelligence. 

John, bishop of Melitene/ inscribed these words on his sarcophagus: 

Who once sliced men more sharply than the sword 
Is victim of a woman and a glaive. 

Who once retained the whole wo rid in his power 
Now small, is housed in but a yard of earth. 

Whom once it seems by wild beasts was revered 
His wife has slain as though he were a sheep. 

Who chose to sleep but little in the night 
Now sleeps the lasting slumber of the tomb. 

A bitter sight; good ruler, rouse yourse If! 

Take footmen, horsemen, archers to the fight, 

The regiments and units of your host — 

For Russians, fully armed, assail our ports, 
lhe Scyths are anxious to be slaughtering 
While every people does your city harm 
Who once was frightened by your graven face 
Before the gates of your Byzantium. 

Do not ignore these things; cast ofF the stone 
Which now detains you here and stone the beasts, 

Repel the gentiles; give us, built in stone, 

A firm foundation, solid and secure. 

Or if you would not leave your tomb a while, 

At least cry out from earth against the foe — 

For that alone might scatter them in flight. [283] 

If not, ma ke roo m for us there in vour tomb 


For death, as you well know, is safety and 

1 j * j 

Salvation for th’entire Christian folk, 

Nikephoros, who vanquished all but Eve. 

That is how it goes, 89 


John of Melitene, a former soldier and a great admirer of NSkepho 
from John the Geometres, a faithful friend of Basil the parakoiomen 
Geometre, poet and soldier*, B, 68 (1998), 356—80. 

MSS ACE only. 

ms* must be distinguished 

os: M* Lauxtermnan, 'John 


John I Tzimiskes [969—976] 

1. [284] After Nikephoros died, John Tzimiskes assumed responsibility for 
the Roman government with Basil and Constantine, the sons of Romanos 
[ 11 ], as co-emperors; Basil was in the seventh year of his life, Constantine 
in his fifth. [John] immediately summoned Basil the parakoimomenos 2 
by night and made him his associate in power, it was in no small meas- 
ure owing to this man that the emperor Nikephoros gained the imperial 
throne, for which he was appointed president [of the Senate] — a position 
which did not exist before; Nikephoros was the first to name anybody 
to it. [John made this man his associate] because he had been involved 
in affairs of state for many years, under Romanos [I] the Elder, his own 
father, then under his half-brother, Constantine [VII] Porphyrogennetos. 
Many times he had campaigned against the Hagarenes 4 and he was 
especially skilled in smoothly adapting himself to difficult situations. 
He quickly took matters in hand and expelled all those who remain ed 
in favour of Nikephoros. He exiled Leo the kouropalates' 1 to Lesbos 
and his son, Nikephoros the vestes, to Imbros, He wrote to Bardas the 

1 There is something wrong with the arithmetic here, because in December 969 Basil was more th an 
ten years old, his brot her seven* Nor do these figures agree with the regnal years; Basil had been 
emperor in name since 22 April 960, Constantine since March 962* John Tzimiskes was forty-five 
at this time: Leo the Deacon, 96, trad* 146* 

- Basil appears to have taken no active part in Tzimiskes 1 plot ; nor did he try to prevent it: Leo the 
Deacon, ed, Hasc, 94; hence he was able to retain his position as parakoimomenos* 

■ The exact time at which this new senatorial office (proedros) was created is not known; certainly it 
was after the accession of Nikephoros* Basil used the title on his seal: ‘Basil, very glorious proedros of 
the Senate and parakoimomenos to the emperor bel oved of Christ': Zacos II, no* 794. It is also fou nd 
on a chalice now in St Mark s, Venice, and on a reliquary, the famous Staurotheke of Limbourg. 

4 In particular he had been joint commander with John Tzimiskes in 958 of an army which had pre- 
vailed over Saif ad-Doula and taken Samosata on the Euphrates: M* Canard, Histoire de la dynastie 
de$ Hamdanides de Jazira et de Syrie (Paris, 1951), 795 * 

• Leo the Deacon, 95, trad* 144, reproves Leo for failing to avenge his brother (even though an army 
loyal to the Phokades was station ed at Constantinople) and for nor dipping into his immense 
riches to stop Tzimiskes in his tracks. 

6 An island in the north-east of the Aegean Sea which, together with Tenedos, controls the entry 
to the Dardanelles: J. Koder, Aigaion Pelagos (Die nordliche Agais) (TIB, 10, Vienna, 1998), 177—9* 
Both these islands are now part of Turkey. 



John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

younger, 7 then duke of Chaldia and Coloneia, relieving him of his com- 
mand and transferring him to Amaseia. s And he dismissed those others 
who held civil or military commands from their positions, appointing 
his own men, supporters of the new emperor.'' 1 [285] He permitted those 
whom Nikephoros had exiled to return, especially those bishops he had 
exiled for refusing to sign the bill by which that emperor sou ght to restrict 
and humiliate the church, as this narrative has already reported. 

2. After taking these measures, in that same night the emperor, accom- 
panied by only a few men, went to the Great Church without the slightest 
apprehension; his intention was to receive the diadem at the hand of the 
patriarch. But when he was about to enter the church, Polyeuktos would 
not allow it. He said that a man whose hands were dripping with the 
steaming blood of a newly slain kinsman was unworthy to enter a church 
of God; that he had better start showing deeds of repentance and thus 
gain permission to tread the floor of the house of the Lord. John quietly 
accepted a penance and obediently declared that he would perform it all. 
He did, however, advance the justification that it was not by him that 
Nikephoros had been killed, but by Balantes and Atzypotheodoros; and 
they at the instigation of the Sovereign Lady. On hearing this the patri- 
arch ordered her to be ejected from the palace and sent to some island, 
Nikephoros’ murderers to be banished, and the bill by which Nikephoros 
sought to throw church affairs into disarray to be torn up. John immedi- 
ately expelled [the two men] from the city and banished Theophano to the 
Prokonnesos. She subsequently escaped from there and secretly fled to the 
Great Church, from which she was expelled by Basil the parakoimomenos 
and exiled to the Damideia monastery, newly founded by the emperor, in 
the Armeniakon theme, but not before she had roun dly upbraided the 
emperor and Basil (whom she called Scyth and barbarian), leaving the 





He is called ‘the younger 1 to distinguish him from his grandfather* Bardas the younger began his 
career under his uncle; he had already obtained an important command in the east: I rebizond and 
its hinterland: }-Q « Cheynet, Tes Phocas 5 , Le traite sur la guerilla de Vempereur Nicephore Phocos , 
edL G. Dagron and H. Mihaescu {Le monde byzantin, Paris, 1 986 ), 307—9, reproduced in J*-C* La 
societe by zantine. Lap port des sceaux (Bilans dc recherche 3, Paris, 1986), 489—91 

One of the principal towns of the Armeniakon theme (Amasya today) where Tzimiskes and his 
friends were particularly influential (which meant that Bardas Phokas would he under strict sur- 
veillance there)* Tzimiskes exempted those who lived in that theme from taxation — to increase 
his popularity: Leo the Deacon, 100, tr. 149* 

We have no detailed knowledge of the measures taken but at Antioch Eustathios Ma lei nos (who 
was related to Nikephoros Phokas on his mothers side) was replaced by Michael Bourtzes who 
had been bitterly disappointed when Phokas did not give him the command of a city whose com 
quest owed so much to his efforts* 

The Kourkouas-Tzimiskcs commanded solid support in the Armeniakon theme, n* 95, p* 222* 
Basil s mother was a concubine of unknown nationality; probably a Bulgar or a Magyar — both 
could be described as Scyth, meaning nomad of the northern Steppes. 


John I Tzimiskes 

2 73 

marks of her knuckles on his temple. Her mother was exiled at the same 
time, [286] she to Mantineion. ri The bill was brought in and ripped up; the 
church then enjoyed her former liberties. 

3. Once these measures had b een taken, John promised that, in pro- 
pitiation for his sin, he would distribute among the poor whatever he had 
possessed as a private citizen, whereupon Polyeuktos allowed him into the 
church. On the feast of the Nativity of Christ our God he entered [the 
Great Church] and received the imperial diadem. 1 ’ 

The empire was now considerably disturbed, both in the east and in 
the west. The cities which had been taken from the Hagarenes in Cilicia, 
Phoenicia and Coelo-Syria were contemplating revolt, for [after their 
capture] Nikephoros did not have time to set them in order and assure 
their security. The ill-advised project of inciting the Russians against the 
Bulg ars had now turned into a gravely dangerous threat to the empire, 
while a five-year famine afflicting Roman lands was now sorely oppress- 
ing the towns. 2 * 4 The emperor gave careful thought and attention to how 
these ailments might be remedied and the resulting apprehension for the 
future be eliminated. Meairwhile a most virtuous monk named Thomas 
was appointed archbishop for Antioch on the Orontes (which was without 
a bishop).' 5 * This was the monk who foretold the emperor’s proclamation 
and warn ed li im not to be in a hurry, as God was going to raise him up to 
imperial heights; but he had to beware lest by foolishly rushing to possess 
the throne he destroy his own soul. He also requested that the Manichees 
who were ravaging all the east a nd corrupting it by spreading their mis- 
erable religion should be transported to the west and settled in some re- 
mote wilderness. This was done later on; they were transported and settled 

2 A monastery in the Boukellarion theme* see below: reign of Romanos Argyros below, c. 18. The 
name of Theophano’s mother (Maria) is recorded on a seal: Zacos and Veglery, Byzantine lead 

seals , i, no, 2675, 

35 The emperor proceeded to the Great Church at Christmas: De Cer. y 1,32, ed* Vogt* I, 119—26, at 
122—3 for the entry* On this occasion, by virtue of the twelfth canon of the council of Ankyra, the 
patriarch declared by an act of Synod that the (symbolic) anointing of an emperor eliminated the 
foregoing murder just as baptism eliminates all previous sin: Grumel, Les regestes du patriarcat , 

II, no* 794* 

111 is explains the rising grain prices in the time of Nikephoros Phokas. Leo the Deacon 102—3, 
trans, 152, mentions not only a third year of famine, but also rhe speedy arrival of relief which 
brought this catastrophe to an end, 

' On the patriarchs of Antioch after its return to Roman rule: V* Grumel, Le patriarcat et les patri- 
arches d Antioche sous la seconde domination byzantine (969— 1084) 7 , £0, 33 {1934), 129—47, an d 
K.-P. Todt, 'The Greek patriarchate of Antioch in the period of the renewed Byzantine rule and in 
the time of the first Crusades (969—1204)', History of the Antiochian Greek Orthodox Church: what 
specificity ? (Balamond, Lebanon, 1999), 33-53. Theodore II (970-6) was hegoumenos of the mon- 
astery of St Anthony in the Armeniakon theme. It was no doubt as a neighbour of the Tzimiskes 
that he was a hie to ma ke such predictions. 

John I Tzimiskes 

2 75 

5. We have already described the way in which the Russian people oc- 
cupied Bulgaria and were holding the two sons of Peter, [288] Boris and 
Romanos, as prisoners of war. The Russians now had no wish whatsoever 
to return to their homeland. They were charmed by the fertility of the 
place and, without paying any attention whatsoever to the agreement con- 
cluded with the emperor Nikephoros, they thought it would be to their 
advantage to remain in that country and take control of the land. 15 They 
were further encouraged in this by Kalokyros when he said that if they 
would accept him as emperor of the Romans he would withdraw from 
Bulgaria and make an eternal peace with them. He would pay them the 
subsidies to which they haci agreed many times over and hold them to 
be his allies and friends for life. Gratified by these words, the Russians 
treated Bulgaria as conquered territory, and when the emperor sent an em- 
bassy promising to fulfil all the obligations that Nikephoros had under- 
taken, they would not receive it. They returned answers brimming with 
barbaric arrogance; this obliged him to seek a military resolution of the 
situation. By letter he promptly ordered the eastern forces to cross over 
to the west and he appointed as commander of those forces the magister 
Bardas Skleros 14 (whose sister the emperor had legally married while he 
was still a private citizen) with the rank of general; 15 he was going to set 
out himself at the beginning of spring. When the Russians and Sviatoslav, 
their chieftain, learnt that the Romans had crossed over, they made com- 
mon cause with the Bulgars whom they had already made their subjects, 

2} The truth of the matter is that Sviatoslav (Sphendosthlav^reSkylitzes, son of Igor and Olga) was 
obliged to return to Kiev because it was being menaced by Patzinaks, with his mother manning 
the defence* Sviatoslav resumed his offensive against the Bulgars at the end of 969* Meanvv hile 
Nikephoros Phokas had concluded an agreement with the Bulgars to repel the Russians, a change 
of all egianee which is explained hy the fact that Nikephoros had secured the submission of the 
Bulgars: Leo the Deacon, 79-80* It was not the intention of Sviatoslav to conquer Constantinople 
but to take up residence at Little Preslav (which must be distinguished from Preslav, the Bulgar 
capital) because this would offer more facilities for trading with the empire: S* Franklin and J* 
Shepard, The emergence of Rus> jjo—t 2 oo (London, 1996), 147* 

14 Til is is the first mention of the brother-in-law of John Tzimiskes* Bardas was probably the son 
of Panther ios Skleros, last domestic of the scholai under Romanos Lekapenos, which won 1a 
explain why he received no important comma nd under Nikephoros Phokas* He was now a sol- 
dier wi th wide experience but also quite old, for he must have been born around 920: W* Seibt, 
Die Skleroi: Eine pro sop og raph isch-sigi llog rap h ische Studie (Ryzantjna Vindobonensia, 9, Vienna, 
1976), 29-58* 

StratelateSy the former magister mili turn > came to designate no more than a dignity in the course 
of the seventh century before disappearing in the eighth, even though it is still cited in the 
Kletorologion of Phi loth eos* It re-appears in the Taktikon Scorialensis to mean somebody who 
really commanded troops. There is no doubt that this was the title Bardas held but it is not always 
easy to see what exactly it meant: the officer in charge of the unit known as the stratelates y or 
merely Officer in charge 5 : N. Oikonomides, Listes y 332* 

John I Tzimiskes 


bridle, but gently and without breaking ranks. Then, wherever it was pos- 
sible, [his men] were to turn about and set upon the enemy again. Their 
orders were to keep on repeating the operation until [the enemy] was well 
within the ambushes and traps; at that point they were to retreat in dis- 
orderly and headlong night. Now the forces of the barbarians were three- 
fold: the first third consisted of Bulgarians and Russians, the second was 
Turks only, the third Patzinaks, likewise alone. When John came on, he 
chanced to encounter the Patzinaks. He pretended to run away as he was 
ordered to do, but made quite a leisurely retreat. The Patzinaks for their 
part came in pursuit, breaking their ranks in the hope of utterly annihi- 
lating them, lhe Romans, however, now making an orderly retreat, now 
turning to defend themselves, drew closer to the [290] ambuscades and, 
when they were in the midst of them, gave the horses their heads an d fled 
for all they were worth, with the Patzinaks strung out in disorderly pur- 
suit. Then the magister suddenly appeared with the whole army and, taken 
by surprise, the Patzinaks halted the pursuit. This, however, was not with 
the intention of running away, for they stood their ground, waiting for 
whatever might befall them. Those who were accompanying the magister 
violently attacked them; then so did the rest of the army which was follow- 
ing in good order and rank by rank, with the result that even the bravest 
of the Scyths fell. The Roman forces were now completely parted and 
the Patzinaks fell right into the trap; the two wings came together again, 
which meant the enemy were perfectly surrounded. They resisted for a 
short time and then surrendered; almost all of them were slain. 

6. Thus Bardas put them to flight; he then learnt from the prison- 
ers that the rest of the Patzinaks were biding their time, unwearied and 
drawn up in battle line. He directed himself to them forthwith. At first 
when they learnt of the [other] Patzinaks’ misfortune, their morale had 
collapsed at the unexpected nature of the disaster, but they rallied each 
other and reintegrated those who had been dispersed as they took to their 
heels. They then launched an attack on the Romans, the cavalry lead- 
ing the charge, the infantry following behind. At the first onslaught the 
impetus of the cavalry was interrupted by the Romans, who seemed to 
be irresistible; the horsemen turned back and were forced up against the 
infantry. When they got back to where they were before, they regrouped 
and waited the coming of the Romans. For some time the battle hung 
in the balance until a Scyth who outstripped the others in the size of 
his body and the courage of his soul leapt on the magister himself as 

Vl Scyths’ usually means all people from the north; here, Russians and Bulgars. 

John I Tzimiskes 


of the blow that they all desisted from the chase, nobody daring to go any 
further. No longer in fear of his life, Phokas entered the fortress. Skleros 
came along afterwards; he sent him frequent messages and wrote to him 
swearing that he cared for him as a kinsman (his brother Constantine 
was in fact married to Sophia, Phokas’ sister). He counselle d Ph okas to 
approach the emperor and to gain his benevolence by giving himself up. 
When he had received sworn assurances that no evil would befall him, 
Phokas delivered himself and those with him into Skleros’ hands. The 
worst the emperor did to him was to force him to receive holy orders and 
to banish him to the island of Chios. But he commanded Skleros and the 
light [Ty armed] units to cross over to the west again in all haste. 4? 

8. John took to himself as wife Theodora, the sister of Romanos [II] and 
daughter of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, which pleased the citizens 
greatly for it kept the imperial power within the family [of Basil I]. 44 

9. In the second year of his reign, as he was about to campaign against 
the Russians, [John] conciliated the soldiers with bounties and appointed 
commanders [295] known for their skill and experience in military mat- 
ters. He gave careful attention to other preparations to ensure that the 
army not go short of anything. He also concerned himself with the fleet 
by the agency of Leo, then droungarios of the fleet but afterwards pro- 
tovestiarios. Old vessels were refitted, new ones built to put a fleet worthy 
of th e name on the water. When everything was to his satisfaction, at 
the beginning of spring he made departure offerings to God, took his 
leave of the citizens and left the capital. When he came to Raidestos, 45 
he was met by two Scythian ambassadors who gave the appearance of 
fulfilling an embassy but in fact had come to spy on the state of Roman 
affairs. In response to their grumbling and complaints about mistreat- 
ment the emperor ordered them to pass through the entire camp and 
to inspect the ranks, for he was under no delusions as to why they were 
there. When they had been all around and seen everything, he enjoined 
them to take themselves off and tell their commander with what a well- 

The revolt of Phokas obliged Bard as Skleros to abandon the main front on which he had been 
fighting for a few months; the regiments were ordered into winter quarters on their return* prob- 
ably in the autumn of 970, After the Russians were defeated* they satisfied themselves wi th occu- 
pying the lands to the north of the Haemos, 

44 Leo the Deacon, 127, trans. 174, says that when the widowed John Tzimiskes married Theodora 
in November 970 she was not particularly attractive, but that she was very intelligent. Yahya of 
Antioch, t, 830, tells us it was stipulated that if the marriage produced a son (Theodora was in 
her thirties) the child would be an emperor, the two porphyrogennetoi [Basil and Constantine] 
taking precedence over him. 

4? A town on the European banks of the sea o fM armara, the present Tekirdag. This was an import- 
ant stage on the Via Egnatia and a depot for the grain raised on the adjacent plains. 

John I Tzimiskes 


despatched a company of picked men and put Theodore of Mistheia in 
command of their number with orders to advance ahead of the army, look 
out for the main body of the enemy and to keep the emperor informed. 
[299] If they drew near, they were to test the strength of the enemy by skir- 
mishing with them. He himself came after them with the whole army in 
order of battle. When the men with Theo do re came into contact wi th the 
enemy, they launched a violent assault on them but the Russians wo uld 
advance no further for fear of an ambush. Many of them were woun ded 
and some fell, then they broke ranks and dispersed into the neighbouring 
mountains and the thick, dark forest which covered them; by way of the 
mountains they reached safety in Dristra. Ihey were seven thousand in 
number, while the number of the Romans who attacked them and put 
them to flight was three hundred. 

When the Scyths were reunited around Sviatoslav they set out with 
him and set up camp twelve miles before Dorostolon together with their 
whole army: there were three hundred and thirty thousand of them, 
eagerly and confidently awaiting the arrival of the emperor. Exulting in 
their recent victories, the Romans were looking forward to a decisive bat- 
tle, knowing that they had God on their side, He who has no wish to 
come to the aid of princes with unclean hands, but always helps the vic- 
tims of injustice. Thus the Romans were eager and bold (not only the 
outstandingly courageous, but also the faint-hearted and timorous) — all 
champing at the bit to be in action. Wh en the armies came w ithin sight 
of each other, the emperor and Sviatoslav ea ch en couraged his own men 
with heartening words, addressing them in appropriate language. Then, 
when the trumpets gave the signal for battle, the hosts charged each other 
with equal ardour. At the first encounter such was the impetus of the 
Romans’ charge that they killed many barbarians and broke their ranks, 
but there was no retreat on the part of the enemy nor any definite rout by 
the Romans. What happened was that the Scyths regrouped and came 
at the Romans again, hurling cries. For some time the battle was equally 
matched [300] but when it drew on towards evening on that day the 
Romans rallied each other and somehow stiffened their determination 
with exhortations. Then they charged the Scyths’ left wing and put down 
many of them by the irresistible nature of this manoeuvre. The Russians 
now concentrated their forces there where the danger lay, at which the 
emperor despatched reinforcements from those who accompanied him 

56 A town in the Ana tol ikon theme, the present Beyhehir: K. Belke and M . Res tie, Galatien und 
Lykaonien ( l IB, 4, Vienna, 1984) 205—6. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

and lie himself came after them, the imperial insignia openly displayed. 
His lance at the ready, he spurred on his horse and rallied his troops with 
frequent shouts. A bitterly contested battle ensued in which there were 
many reverses of fortune; it is said that twelve times the balance tipped 
this way and that. Then, not by any means without having put up a stiff 
resistance, the Russians broke into disorderly flight before the dangers 
which confronted them and scattered over the plain. The Romans gave 
pursuit and slew those whom they overtook; many fell and more were 
taken prisoner. Those who succeeded in getting out of danger found ref- 
uge in Dorostolon. 

12. The emperor made offerings for the victory to George, the gloriously 
triumphant martyr (for it was on his feast day 57 that he had charged the 
enemy), and then himself set out for Dorostolon [Dristra] on the follow- 
ing day. When he arrived there, he established a well-fortified camp. He 
did not yet lay siege to the city, for fear that the Russians might have been 
able to escape in their ships since the river was unguarded. So he remained 
in camp, awaiting the Roman fleet. Meanwhile Sviatoslav put the Bulgars 
he had captured alive (they numbered about twenty thousand) in iron 
fetters and other kinds of restraints for fear they might mutiny; and he 
made preparations in anticipation of a siege. Once the fleet arrived, the 
emperor attempted an assault on the walls. Frequent sallies of the Scyths 
were repulsed but one day, when the Romans were dismissed for supper 
and evening was drawing on, the barbarians split into two sections, cav- 
alry and infantry, and poured out of two of the city gates: the one to the 
east which Peter the camp commander had been stationed to guard with 
Th racian and Macedonian troops, and the one to the west, the security ot 
w hlch was entrusted to Bard as Skleros [301] with the troops of the East. 
Out came the Scyths in battle order, and this was the first time they had 
been seen on horseback; in the previous battles they had fou ght on foot. 
The Romans withstood their charge and opposed them vigorously. For 
some time it was an equal contest but eventually the Romans with their 
superior qualities thrust the barbarians back and shut them up inside the 
walls. The barbarians suffered many casualties In the battle, especially 
of horsemen, but not a single Roman was wounded, except for the three 
horses that fell. Trounced like this and shut up within the walls, the bar- 
barians remained awa ke as night fell, mourning all night long for those 
who had fallen with wild and frightful wailing. To those who heard them 
it sounded like the roaring and bellowing of wild beasts rather than the 

23 April. Stratopedarches , appointed by Nikephoros Phokas: above. 

c. r. 

John I Tzimiskes 


grief and lamentation of humankind. At daybreak all those who had been 
detached to guard various fortresses were summoned back to Dorostolon 
and they came in haste as soon as they were called. Now the emperor con- 
centrated all his forces and advanced onto the plain before the city where 
he tried to goad the barbarians [to fight]. But as they did not come out, he 
returned to camp and bided his time. A delegation now came to him from 
Constantia and the other fortresses established beyond the Danube, They 
sought an amnesty for their misdeeds [in return for] handing over them- 
selves and the strongholds. He received them kindly, despatching officers 
to take charge of the fortresses and with sufficient troops to secure them. 

When it was already evening, all the city gates were flung open and 
the Russians (in far greater numbers than before) fell on the Romans — 
to their great surprise, for it was now night. At first the Russians seemed 
to have the upper hand but, shortly after, it was the Romans who were 
prevailing. And then it happened that Sphangelos went down, fighting 
heroically, but the Russians faltered when they were deprived of him and 
their impetus was slackened. They gave no ground, however; they held 
fast all night long and the following day until high noon. At that point 
the emperor sent a detachment to cut off the barbarians’ retreat into the 
city, and once the Russians realised this they turned and fled. When 
they found the ways into the city blocked [302] they fled over the plain, 
where they were apprehended and slain. When night fell Sviatoslav 
threw a deep trench all around the city wall to prevent the Romans from 
easily approaching the wall when they attacked. But he knew that, hav- 
ing secured the city like that, he had to expect a very severe siege. The 
better part of the army lay wounded and famine was afflicting them, 
for they had already consumed their supplies. Since the arrival of any 
relief from outside was prevented by the Romans, one dark and moon- 
less night when heavy rain was falling from the sky, atrocious hail pelt- 
ing down, thunder and appalling lightning all around, he embarked in 
drakkars \monoxyloi\ with two thousand men and went off to forage. 
Each one gathered whatever he could of the necessities of life: grain, mil- 
let and so forth. Then they returned upstream towards Dorostolon in 
their drakkars. While they were sailing upstream they saw a consider- 
able number of soldiers’ orderlies on the river bank. Some of them were 
watering horses, some reaping hay, while others were collecting wood. 
They disembarked from their vessels, quietly made their way through 
th e woo els and then fell on the unsuspecting orderlies who had not even 
seen them. Many of them were killed; the rest were obliged to disperse 
throug h th e nearby bush. The barbarians got hack into their ships and, 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

profiting from a favourable wind, returned to Dorostolon. 59 This greatly 
disturbed the emperor when he heard of it; he was particularly incensed 
with the commanders of the fleet for not having noticed the embarkation 
of the barbarians fro m Dorostolon. He threatened them with death if 
any such fault should ever occur even once again and, for their part, they 
kept a very ca reful watch on both banks of the river. When the emperor 
had spent in all sixty-five days on the siege, fighting every day without 
respite, he thought he should reduce the city by blockade and famine. To 
this end he cut all the roads with ditches at which he stationed guards 
[303] to prevent anybody going out in search of su ppli es; he then sat 
down to wait. That is how things were at Dorostolon. 

13. Although Leo the kouropalates and Nikephoros his son appeared to 
have been mutilated, their eyes were still unharmed, as we said above; they 
now made a further attempt to seize the throne. They had corrupted many 
of those set to guard the city and the palace guards; when all was ready 
for what they had in mind, they hired a ship, went on board and sailed 
away from the island on which they had been condemned to reside. They 
arrived on the shore opposite the city, at an estate called Pelamys, 61 and 
from there they came into Byzantium at first cockcrow. But one of the 
conspirators revealed the affair to Leo, droungarios of the fleet, who was 
charged with the security of the palace together with Basil the Rector,' : 
who dispatched an adequate detachment to arrest the kouropalates and 
his son. When they learnt of this they took refuge in the Great Church, 
but they were dragged out of there and sent to the island of Prote where 
their eyes were gouged out. 

At that time something else came to light which is well worth reporting. 
A plaque of Prokonnesian ma rbl e was found lying around in the garden 
of one of the senators. On the good side of it two human figures were por- 
trayed, one of a man, the other of a woman. On the upper margin of the 
plaque was inscribed an epigram which went something like this: Tong 
live the friends of Christ, John and Theodora.’ Some people were aston- 
ished to see the actual state of affairs so accurately portrayed, but others 
thought the matter was not innocent of deception and chicanery; maybe 
the proprietor of the estate was seeking to get into the good graces of the 

» Th is episode is not mentioned by Leo the Deacon* 

60 Leo and his son were at Methymna on the island of Lesbos: Leo the Deacon, 145, trails. 189. 

61 Tli ere was a monastery on this estate which was near to ChalceJon: Janin, Grands centres , 1 1, 35. 

61 Basil was also logothete of the genikon: Actes de Lavra y 1, Des origin es a iioj, ed. P. Lemerle, N. 

Svoronos, A. Guillou, D. Papachryssanthou (Archives de PAthos, 5, Paris, 1970), 125. 

M Yahya of Antioch, i, 831, says the empress Theodora ordered the arrest an dbi hiding of Leo. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

Romans fell on them again, the Scyths were put to flight and ingloriously 
sought refuge in the city. Many of them fell that day, trodden underfoot 
by others in the narrow defile and slain by the Romans when they were 
trapped there. Sviatoslav himself would have been taken too, if night 
had not fallen and delivered him. When those who escaped danger were 
within the defence-work, they raised a mighty lamentation over the death 
of Ikmor. When the Romans were robbing the corpses of the barbarians 
of their spoils, they found women lying among the fallen, equipped like 
men; women who had fought against the Romans together with the men. 

15. The war was going badly for the barbarians and they had no hope 
of any ally, for their fellow countrymen were far away and the barbarian 
nations close by refused to help for fear of the Romans. They were run- 
ning short of supplies too and there was nowhere that they could obtain 
provisions, as the Roman fleet was keeping a strict watch on the banks 
of the river. But all kinds of goods accrued to the Romans day by day, as 
though from a bottomless well, while their cavalry and infantry forces 
were ever being augmented. Nor were [the barbarians] able to run away by 
embarking in their vessels because, as we said, the waterways were heavily 
guarded. A council was held: some were of the opinion that they should 
take advantage of the night to steal away; others that, since there was no 
other possible way of retreating, they ought to seek pledges and guaran- 
tees from the Romans [306] and then take off for their homeland. Others 
also gave their opinion, each one saying what he thought the situation 
demanded, but while they all wanted to see an end, once and for all, to the 
war, Sviatoslav was rather in favour of meeting the Romans in one more 
encounter. Then they would either win, having fought well and triumphed 
over the enemy, or lose, having preferred a noble and happy death to a life 
of shame and disgrace. Life wo uld be un liveable for them if they sought 
safety in flight, for they would then be despised by the adjacent peoples 
who formerly lived in acute fear of them. The opinion of Sviatoslav won 
the day; everybody agreed to risk the extreme danger of [losing] their lives 
and all their troops. Accordingly they sallied forth from the city next day 
in full force, closed its gates so that nobody could turn back and find refuge 
in the city — and charged at the Romans. A violent battle ensued in which 
the barbarians fought courageously. As the sun was very hot and they were 
suffering from thirst (for they were heavily armed and it was towards high 
noon), the Romans began to give ground. When the emperor became 
aware of this, he and his retinue rushed to their aid, he himself wading 
into the thick of the battle, ordering skins filled with wine and water to be 
supplied to the soldiery suffering from the sun and from thirst. This they 

John I Tzimiskes 


could use to overcome their thirst and the heat of the sun. Then, pulling 
themselves together, they charged the Scyths with violent impetus, but 
the foe boldly withstood the shock and the battle stood undecided until 
the emperor noted how narrow the place was, and that it was due to this 
factor that the enemy’s resistance was possible: the Romans had so little 
elbow room they were unable to display the kind of performance which 
was appropriate to their valour. So he ordered the commanders to retreat 
towards the plain, withdrawing from the city, thus giving the impression 
of running away. They were not, however, to be in a hurry, [307] but to 
take their time and retreat only little by little. Then, when they had drawn 
their pursuers some distance from the city, they were suddenly to turn 
about, give their horses their heads and attack those men. The Romans did 
as they were commanded; the Russians, thinking the withdraw a 1 of the 
Romans was a retreat, urged each other on and came in pursuit with loud 
shouts. When the Romans approached the appointed spot, they turned 
about and boldly charged the foe. Now there ensued a bitter conflict, in 
the course of which there fell the commander Theodore of Mistheia, his 
horse injured by a lance. An intense action was fought around him as 
the Russians tried to kill him and the Romans strived to stop them from 
doing so. In fact, as Theodore fell from his horse, he grabbed one of the 
Scyths by the belt, swinging him this way and that by the strength of his 
arm, like a light shield, fending off the weapons aimed at him. Little by 
little and walking backwa rds, h e made his way to where the Romans were. 
Finally the Romans fell on the Scyths, forced them back and delivere d the 
man from danger. Then the forces disengaged from each other, the battle 
remaining completely undecided. 

16. The emperor realised that the Scyths were fighting with more ten- 
acity than before. He was concerned about how much time the action was 
taking; he was also moved with compassion for the wretched Romans who 
were faring so badly in the war, so he came up with the idea of having 
the matter decided by single combat. And indeed he sent a delegation to 
Sviatoslav challenging him to fight alone : for (he said) it was better for the 
decision to be made by the death of one man than to massacre and grad- 
ually wear the people down; the winner would take all. But [the Scyth] 
would not accept the challenge. He answered derisively that he could look 
after his own affairs better [308] than his enemy; and that, if [John] was 
weary of life, there were ten thousand other ways of dying; let him embrace 
whichever one he chose. And with this effrontery he fell to preparing for 
action even more vigorously. So, abandoning the project of single combat 
by challenge, the emperor took every measure to close off access to the city 

John I Tzimiskes 


them died as they trod each other under foot, while even more of them 
were slaughtered by the Romans and almost all of them were wounded. 
To honour the martyr and repay him for his timely aid, the emperor 
tore down to the ground the church in which his sacred body lies and 
built a large and most beautiful new one which be endowed with splen- 
did estates. The name [of the place] was changed from Euchaneia to 

18. Sviatoslav had now tried every possible device and had been worsted 
every time. Realising there was no hope left for him, he contemplated com- 
ing to terms. He sent a delegation to the emperor asking for assurance that 
he cou Id be counted among the allies and friends of the Romans; that he 
would be allowed to return in safety to his homeland with his men and 
that any Scyth who wished to do so could freely visit [the empire] for trade 
purposes. The emperor received the delegation and, repeating the famous 
saying that it was the custom of the Romans to conquer their enemies with 
alms rather than with arms, agreed to all the requests. 70 When the treaty 
had b een ratified, Sviatoslav asked also to speak with the emperor and this 
was agreed to. When he arrived for the interview they met each other, spoke 
of whatever they pleased and then parted. 7 ' The emperor also conceded 
this at Sviatoslav’s request: that a delegation be sent to the Patzinaks invit- 
ing them too to become friends and allies; allies who would not cross the 
Danube to prey on the [310] Bulgars but who would allow the Russians to 
pass through their lands unharmed on their way home. It was Theophilos, 
bishop of Euchaita, 71 who discharged this mission. When the Patzinaks 
received the delegation, they agreed to all the other terms but they would 
not allow free passage to the Russians. Once the Russians had sailed away, 
the emperor turned his attention to the fortresses and cities along the ban ks 

Sky litres must be mistaken here* tor there is no mention in the episcopal lists ol the name 
Theodoropolis for Eli chan ia (which certainly housed a shrine of St Theodore)* On the other hand 
Leo the Deacon, ed. Hase, 158* while he says nothing of the building ofa church, does affirm that 
Dristra was renamed Theodoropolis- and this is verified by a seal ofa katepan of Theodoroupolis 
found at Preslav: I. Jordanov, Pecatite ot strategijata v Preslav (Sofia, 1995)? nos* 228—31* 

Leo the Deacon also attributes the terms ot the agreement between Sviatoslav and Tzimiskes to 
imperial generosity. In tact, it looks as though the emperor was not on the point of taking Dristra 
and that the better course was negotiation with a view to restoring the situation that obtained 
prior to the initiative of Nikephoros Phokas, especially as this wou ia leave the emperor in control 
of Bulgaria* 

I hat the two men met in person may explain why Leo the Deacon, ed. Hase, 156—7, depending 
on official documentation, has left us an unflattering portrait of the Russian chieftain s physical 

72 Euchaita was in the Armeniakon theme — which is where the Kourkouai came from* Th is explains 
why it was Theophilos (no doubt a good friend of Tzimiskes) who was chosen as amabassador. 

294 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

of the river and then he returned to Roman territory. 71 The archbishop of the 
city, the Synod and all the distinguished citizens met him, bearing crowns 
amid paeans of praise and victory songs. They had prepared a most splen- 
did carriage drawn by four white horses abreast, into which they invited the 
emperor to step in order to celebrate his triumph. He, however, not wishing 
to be arrogant but rather to appear modest, while he accepted the prof- 
fered crown, rode the triumphal path on a white horse. He placed the royal 
insignia of the Bulgars in the carriage together with (but above them) the 
icon of the Mother of God, protectress of the city, and ordered it to precede 
him. 74 When he arrived at the Forum, surfeited with cheering, he offered 
thanksgiving for his victories to the Mother of God and to her Son then, in 
full sight of the citizens, he stripped Boris of the Bulgar regalia: a crown of 
gold, a tiara of woven linen 76 and scarlet buskins. From there he proceeded 
to the Great Church where he presented the Bulgar crown as an offering to 
God. He next promoted Boris to the rank of magister" 7 and then went to 
the palace. When Sviatoslav was making his way back home, as he passed 
through the land of the Patzinaks, he fell into ambushes already prepared 
to take him/ 8 He and the entire host that accompanied him were com- 
pletely annihilated, so angry were the Patzinaks with him for having made 
a treaty with the Romans. 

i9 79 [311] In gratitude to Christ the Saviour for his victories, starting 
afresh, the emperor rebuilt the church above the vault of the Chalke, 
sparing nothing that might enhance its splendour and beauty. He also 
excused all taxpayers from the tax called kapnikon /' He also ordered that 

7 7 Seals found at Preslav make it possible to understan d the military organisation set out by 
Skylitzes: N« Oikonomides, A propos de la premiere occupation byzantine de Bulgarie (971— ca 
986)', EU Y U CIA , Melanges offer ts a Helene A h r we t ier, ed. M* B a lard etaL (Paris, 1998), 581—9. 

4 The ostentatious humility of the emperor again attests to the divine support which gives legitim- 
acy to his rule. On the new elements introduced into the triumphal ceremonies: M, McCormick, 
Eternal victory: triumphal rulers hip in late antiquity > Byzantium, and the early medieval west , 
(Cambridge, MA, 1986), 171— 4. 

75 Tzimiskes reorganised Bulgaria into a number of commands each strengthened, by a great 
fortress: Preslav, Dristra and the renovated fortresses at the mouth of the Danube: P. Stephenson, 
Byzantium's Balkan frontier: a political study of the northern Balkans, y 00-120 j (Cambridge, 2000), 

55 “®- 

Byssosy see Luke 16:19, r ^ e r ‘ c h miin (Dives) 'clothed in pur pie and fine linen. 

77 In this way Boris was integrated into the Byzantine honours system at a high level, 

Tb His skull was made into a drinking cup, a tradition among nomad peoples, 

n Many things are passed over in silence here, e.g. the marriage of I zimiskes* niece to Otto II, son 
and heir of the emperor Otto I, in spring 972. lids marriage signalled complete acceptance of 
John's coup d'etat, while assuring the security of the empire's possessions in Italy, 

So Th is church was built by Romanos Lekapenos, who endowed it with twelve clergy, Tzimiskes 
enlarged it, increased the staff to fifty and deposited the relics he had brou ghtb ack from his cam- 
paigns there: Jan in, Eglises ei monasieres , 1, 529—30, 

St This tax on fireplaces probably amounted to two pieces of silver per hearth: Oikonomides, 
Fiscalite , 30. Tzimiskes had already offered tax relief to those living in the Armeniakon theme. 


John Skylitzes: a synopsis oj Byzantine history 

encountered whose land this might be and learnt from his interlocutors 
that it all belonged to Basil the parakoimomenos: ‘This estate and that 
one were recently added to the Roman lands by the emperor Nikephoros, 
[312] the one over there by the domestic of the scholai, the next one by 
such-and-such, the one after it by you — and all these estates have been 
given to Basil.’ Yet of these acquisitions he saw nothing worthy of note 
which had been left to the public treasury. 87 He was deeply troubled and 
heaved a great sigh, saying: ‘Oh, gentlemen, what a terrible thing it is if, 
when public funds are expended, the Roman armies are reduced to pen- 
ury, the emperors endure hardships beyond the borders and the fruits 
of all this effort become the property of one — eunuch!’ Thus spake the 
emperor, and one of those present reported what the emperor had said to 
Basil, which provoked him to wrath; so that, henceforth, he was looking 
for an opportunity to rid himself of the emperor. In due course he won 
over the emperor’s usual wine pourer with flattery and bribed him with 
gifts. He prepared some poison, not the most deadly or one which speed- 
ily brings on ill effects, but one of those that gradually sap the strength ol 
those who drink them. This toxin was served to the emperor in wine; he 
drank it and gradually fell ill, losing his energy. Finally, boils broke out on 
his shoulders and there was a copious haemorrhaging from the eyes. He 
returned to the capital and departed this life after reigning a little more 
than six years and as many months; 89 he left to succeed him in life Basil 
and Constantine, the sons of Romanos. 

{This is what he looked like: he had a white face and high colouring. 
His hair was fair but thin; he let it hang down over his forehead. His eyes 
were lively and clear, his nose narrow and well-proportioned. His mous- 
tache was red and stretched out a long way at the sides while his beard was 
of normal length and thick. He was not tall but the chest and back were 
broad. He was enormously strong; the dexterity and vigour of his arm 
was irresistible. He was possessed of a heroic soul, fearless and intrepid, 
displaying supernatural courage in so small a body. He would not hesitate 
to charge a whole rank single-handed, after which he would speedily [313] 
return to his own ranks having slain many victims. He surpassed all the 
men of those days in jumping, handball, javelin-throwing and archery. He 

s? The norma 1 pro cedure was for conquered lands, whether they had been taken from a private 
owner or belonged to a conquered emir, to be managed by public trustees or episkeptitai. On this 
transfer: J. Howa rd-J ohnston, 'Crown lands and the defence of imperial authority in the tenth 
and eleventh centuries’, Byz. Forsch. 21 (1995), 75— too, 
ss It is by no means certain that he was poisoned. 

Th is calculation is not correct: John reigned from 11 December 969 to 10 January 976, the day he 
died* Leo the Deacon, t 78, trans. 220. 


Basil II and Constantine VIII bis [976—1025] 

1. [314] John met his end. in the way described; the right to rule now passed 
to Basil 1 and. Constantine, the sons of Romanos [II], 2 in the month of 
December, am 6468, fourth year of the indiction/ Basil being then in his 
twentieth year, Constantine three years younger. But they only became 
emperors in appearance and name, for the administration of the affairs 
of state was undertaken by Basil [Lekapenos] the president on account of 
the youth of the emperors, their immaturity and their as yet undeveloped 
aptitude. 1 As soon as the right to rule had passed to the sons of Romanos 
[II], [the president] sent messengers speeding to bring their mother back 




Skylitzes is the only chronicler to provide a record — albeit somewhat patchy -- of the reign ol Basil 
II; both Zonaras and Kedrenos depend on him for rheir information. In order to control what 
he reports we have to turn to Asolik of Taron (who is only mainly concerned with affairs in the 
Caucasus region) and Yahya of Antioch, who provides an excellent report but is mainly interested 
in eastern affairs, Tie portrait of Basil II given by Psellos in his Ghronographia (1:2—4) offers no 
new factual information but offers a picture of the emperor (that being the aim of the historian) 
that has largely contributed to the modern idea of a severe and austere Basil IL No modern work 
covers the reign as a whole* C, Holmes, Basil II and the governance 0] empire (976—1025) (Oxford 
Studies in Byzantium, Oxford, 2005), presents a study of the methods of government in the time 
of the great emperor. On his subsequent reputation: P. Stephenson, The Legend of Basil the Bulgar- 
slayer (Cambridge, 2003), We still use the monumental work that remains remarkable for its 
period: C . Schlumberger, U epopee byzaniine a la fin du dixieme si eele: Basile II le tueur de Bulgares 
(Paris, 1900)* Individual aspects of the reign have been dealt with in more recent works: pol- 
itics in Cheynet, Pouvoir and in Byzantium in the year 100 ed. P* Magdalino (The Medieval 
Mediterranean, 45, Leiden, 2003), there are articles on Basil's matrimonial policy (J, Shepard), the 
role of the elites (C« Holmes), foreign policy (JYC* Cheynet, P. Stephenson, V* von Falkenhau sen), 
the influence of millenarism (P. Magdalino) and other aspects, including Basil's relations w r ith 
intellectuals of the period. On millenarism see also L Sevcenko, ‘Unpublished Byzantine texts on 
the end of the wo rid about the year 1000 ad', Melanges Gilbert Dagron , ed, V, Deroche, D. Feisse], 
C . Morrisson, C. Zuckerman, TM , 14 (2002), 561—78* 

The succession was somewhat simplified by the fact that John Tzimiskes had no children* 


Th e second reason seems better than the first since Basil was already eighteen years old, his brother 
sixteen. Constantine may have already been married (see the reign of Constantine VIII, c. 3 where 
there is mention of his wife, the daughter of Alypios) seeing that his second daughter, Zoe, was 
born around 978. 


Basil II and Constantine VIII 


he kept in reserve as a base for operations should things not go well and 
as a harbour of safe refuge. He exchanged assurances with the neighbour- 
ing Saracens, Apotoulph the emir of Amida (which they called Emet) 
and Apotagle' 7 emir of Martyropolis (which they call Miepherkeim). 18 He 
secured friendship with them by marrying and giving in marriage; 1 he 
also received, much money in addition to th tee hundred Arab horsemen as 
auxiliaries. As word of all this went out in every direction, there flocked to 
him the sort of people who rejoice in reckless undertakings. When sum- 
mer arrived he advanced on the capital with his entire army, full of hope 
and under the impression that all he had to do was to occupy the palace. 
He had been emboldened and further encouraged in the undertaking by 
the vision which a virtuous monk claimed to have had one night. It was as 
though he saw some [317] fiery men who took Bardas and brought him to 
a lofty point where he encountered a woman of superhuman appearance; 
she presented him with the imperial scourge. Bardas took the scourge to 
be symbolic of ruling the empire, but it was the wrath of God against the 

3. When news [of the uprising] reached the capital the emperors were 
greatly distressed and despair overcame those of the citizens who had 
intelligence and integrity. The only ones who were pleased were those who 
delight in political disruptions and taking spoils. A letter was sent in all 
haste to Peter the camp commander and the loyal portion of the army was 
hastily asse mbled at Caesarea. While this was happening Stephen the syn- 
kellos, bishop of Nicomedia, a man of learning, we 11 kn own for his wis- 
dom and virtue, possessing the ability of calming rough and wild minds 
by persuasion — this Stephen was sent as an envoy to Skleros to see whether 
he could persuade him to lay down his arms. But Skleros had his mind set 
on one thing: his desire to be emperor. The synkellos made many a cogent 
and persuasive argument but Skleros did not waste words. He stretched 
out his right foot to show the scarlet buskin, saying: Tt is impossible, sir, 
for a man who has once publicly worn that boot voluntarily to take it 
off again. Tell those who sent you that either they accept me willingly as 

3h Abu Dulaf, governor of Amida/Diyarbakir until 979—80 on behalf of Abu Taglih 
37 Abu Taglib, Hamdanid emir of Mosul, who died in Palestine 979— 80: T* Ripper, Die Marw&niden 
von Diyar Bakr; eine kttrdische Dynast ie im islamischen Mittelalter (Wurzburg, 2000), 498. 

]S Martyropolis, Mayyafariqin in Arabic, is now Silvan to the north-east of Amida: ODB y II, 


19 It is possible that Bardas married his son Romanos to the sister or the daughter of Abu 
Taglib: Seibt, Skleroi , 65. 

10 Together with Symeon the logothete he had given an optimistic interpretation of the passage of 
the comet in the reign of John Tzimiskes: Leo the Deacon, 169, trans. 211— 12. 

302 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

emperor or I will attempt to seize the throne against their will.’ Those were 
his words; he granted a delay of forty days and sent him on his way. When 
the synkellos returned and reported Skleros’ reply to the emperors and to 
Basil who was ruling the empire, the camp commander was instructed by 
letter not to instigate a civil war, [318] but he was to maintain a close watch 
on the roads and to repel anybody who came a-warring. Then Skleros 
advanced on Caesarea, sending out scouts and observers to reconnoitre 
and to inform him of the enemy’s dispositions; also to prepare the way for 
him. He appointed Anthes Alyates to command this detachment which, 
finding itself in a narrow pass (they call that place Cuckoo Rock), encoun- 
tered a section of the imperial army under the command of the magister 
Eustathios Maleinos. An engagement was attempted and there was some 
exchange of blows. In fact the armies kept thrusting at each other for some 
time without either side giving way, until Alyates could contain himself no 
longer. Swept away by an excess of zeal he put spur to his horse and charged 
the enemy at an insane speed. He achieved nothing worthy of note for he 
fell, mortally wounded, and all his company melted away into the adjacent 
woods and bushes. At that time Bard as’ hetaireiarch was denounced as a 
would-be deserter to the emperor’s army. Skleros had him brought into his 
presence and scolded him, then let him go without openly doing anything 
else to him in public; but he secretly instructed the Saracen mercenaries to 
slay him. Milling around him as he passed through their midst, they cut 
him down with their swords, in broad daylight. 

4. The commanders of the imperial forces were now more apprehen- 
sive than ever of an onslought by Skleros, so they judged it prudent to 
occupy the strategic points on the road. Taking the entire army, they set 
up camp over against him and took possession of the roads he was going 
to foil ow. Skleros became inactive when he learnt of this and hesitated to 
advance. He wasted time with this delay, waiting to see what the outcome 
would be. He was spurred to action and rendered more eager by a deserter, 
a high-ranking officer Sachaldos Brachamios by name. [This person] 
arrived urging Skleros [319] to waste no more time for (he said) delay earns 
contempt and, since his words seemed judicious, he was appointed com- 
ma nd er and guide for the journey. He led, Skleros followed, and in three 

11 Without consulting Bardas, now head of the Phokas family, the parakoimomenos nevertheless 
makes use of that man's close friends, Peter the stratopedarches and Maleinos* 

21 Skleros has distributed military appointments as though he were already emperor* The het- 
aireiarch was the commander of f oreign contingents* 

1 his general of Armenian extraction had participated at the taking of Antioch: Yahya of Antioch, 
I, 822* 

Basil II and Constantine VIII 


days they reached Lapara, a district of Cappadocia now called Likandos 24 
(it used to be called Lapara on account of its fertility and abundance). 
When the camp commander learnt of this he marched by night for fear 
of not overtaking Skleros; then he pitched camp in face of the enemy. The 
opponents delayed and postponed an open engagement for some time, 
seeking to gain victory by subterfuge. Bardas outmanoeuvred his enemy 
by preparing a great amount of food as though he were going to give a 
banquet for his army. Thus he deceived his adversary into thinking that 
he would not instigate a battle that day, whereupon they too gave them- 
selves to feasting. When Skleros became aware of this (he had his troops 
already prepared for battle), the trumpet suddenly sounded the ‘attack’ 
and he fell on the enemy soldiers as they feasted. Ihey, however, withstood 
the onslaught, each one seizing whatever weapon came to hand; nor were 
they unduly disturbed by the suddenness of it. For some time they stood 
firm but then Bardas effected an outflanking movement which made the 
enemy afraid of being surrounded. Ihen he sent the mercenaries round 
behind and put the foe to flight; a great slaughter ensued. Bourtzes, the 
duke of Antioch, was the first to break ranks, either out of cowardice or 
malice; both are alleged. [Bardas] captured the encampment with all the 
baggage; he also acquired an enormous amount of wealth. From there he 
came to the place called Tzamandos, 15 a city situated on a beetling preci- 
pice, rich in people and in wealth; wealth which the people of the region 
willingly handed over to him, hence he collected a considerable fortune 
there. This victory disturbed many of those remaining faithful to the 
emperor and prompted them to desert to Skleros. Bourtzes was the first 
to desert, then the patrician Andronikos Lydos and his sons. The people 
of Attalia put the emperor’s droungarios in chains and, with all the fleet, 
rallied to [320] Michael Kourtikios who had been sent by Skleros to com- 
mand the Kibyrrhaiote theme. 27 

5. When these things were reported to the emperor and to the para- 
koimomenos a council was held and it was proposed that somebody close 


A Greek word for abundance/ fertility is liparon\ ir was a region where there was an abundance of 
forage for the cavalry* 

Continuing his march westward, Bardas came to this town situated about 60 km east of Caesarea 
in Cappadocia: F. Hild and M, Resile, Kappadokien ( Kappadokia , Charstanon, Sebasteia und 
Lykandos) (TIB, 2, Vienna, 1981), 100—1* Ills victory here allowed him to continue his march on 
the capital* It also opened up central Asia Minor to him, probably causing many landowners in 
the area to join his cause rather than have him as their enemy 

Tli is defection meant the loss of Antioch and its vast resources to Basil* Bardas Skleros appointed 
an Arab convert to Christianity named Oubcidallah duke of Antioch with the title of magis- 
ter: Yahya of Antioch, it, 373* On this person: I lolmes, Basil II y 379—81. 

The principal naval theme of the empire, base of a large provincial fleer. 


304 John Skylitzes: a synopsis of Byzantine history 

to the emperor should be sent against the usurper, a plenipotentiary not 
answerable for his decisions, with powers to award honours and also 
to enrich with gifts those who rallied to his support. This proposal was 
approved; Leo, the emperor’s protovestiarios, was sent with a patrician 
named John as his colleague, a distinguished person renowned for h is ora- 
torical skills. Leo was granted authority by the emperor to do whatever 
the emperor might do. He departed and came to Kotyaion in Phrygia 
where he joined up with Peter the camp commander and there he pitched 
his camp; Bardas was now encamped at Dipotamon, an imperial estate 
which the local people call Mesanakta. [Leo] quietly tried to draw away 
the insurgents with promises of gifts and honours and to gain their sup- 
port for the emperor but he was not successful; rather did he strengthen 
the enemy cause, for his overtures were interpreted as a sign of weakness. 
So he abandoned that plan of action and, leaving Kotyaeon, marched past 
the camp of Skleros by night and headed further east, dhis manoeuvre 
sowed fear in the hearts of Skleros’ men; they were afraid not only for their 
money and property, but also for those whom they held most dear. So, 
many of them renounced the uprising and flocked to the protovestiarios, 
putting the uprising in danger of disintegrating like dust. Fearing that 
this might happen, Skleros sent the magister Michael Bourtzes (who, as 
we said, had joined his ranks) and the patrician Romanos Taronites with 
a light unit; their orders were to oppose the protovestiarios by obstruct- 
ing him by attacking him as soon as contact was made. They were also 
to prevent him from sending out raiding parties as much as they could, 
but to avoid a full-scale battle if possible. However, [321] when Bourtzes 
and his men drew near to the imperial army they were obliged to fight 
willy-nilly, contrary to Skleros’ instructions, for the following reason. It 
became known that Saracens from Berroia-in-the-east u were travelling to 
the capital to pay their annual tribute and that on a certain day they were 






Possibly the drounganos of the fleet under Joh n Tzimiskes who succeeded in arresting Leo the 
kouropalates: R. Guilland,, Recherches sur les institutions Byzantines, i—n (Berlin and Amsterdam), 
I, 220, 

The imperial forces attempted to stop Skleros in Phrygia as he advanced along the military road 
leading to Malagina then on to Nice media, 

The exact location of this Phrygian fortress is not knowrij hut it was near the lake of the Forty 
Martyrs: Belke and Mersich, Phrygien und Pisidien, 338, Bardas Skleros would know the region 
well for he advanced as far as this when he was fighting against the rebel Bardas Phokas in 970, 
The vast imperial estate in Phrygia may have been used for raising horses: a most important 
resource from a military point of view. On the meta ta of Phrygia: Haldon, Welfare State, T4T — 2. 
The stratopedarch uses exactly the same intimidation tactics as his adversary the object being to 
put an end to the conflict without a formal battle being fought, 

Aleppo. The Hamdanid emir of Aleppo had been forced to become a client of the empire by the 
victorious campaigns of Nikephoros Phokas; a treaty was signed in 970. 

Basil II and Constantine VIII 


to pass between the two armies. When the appointed day arrived and the 
Saracens were about to pass the fortress called Oxylithos, 33 Bourtzes’ col- 
leagues armed their men and the officers of the protovestiarios did like- 
wise; then they charged into battle. For both sides the gold the Saracens 
were bringing lay before them as a prize to be won; as they drew near they 
fell on each other and. fought. Bourtzes was put to flight and many of 
those with him were slain, especially among the Armenians. In fact the 
Romans slew every Armenian they captured without quarter, for they had 
been the first to join the uprising. 54 

6 . When this reverse was reported to Bardas he wasted no time in has- 
tening to confront his adversaries. He came to a place called Rhageas and 
pitched camp there, in wait of an opportune time to give battle. But as 
the imperial forces were in no hurry, the time for battle was delayed and 
many of the rebels, discouraged by the former defeat, went over to the 
protovestiarios. The in